Movie review Monday: Source Code

It’s worth noting up front that sci-fi action thriller Source Code has suffered from a serious case of overhype. The film is enjoyable, intelligent and surprisingly moving at some points, but it’s not an instant genre classic. Source Code feels too slight for that as it frequently, and disappointingly, refuses to explore many of the intriguing plot paths that it jogs past.

Source Code has been called a science fiction Groundhog Day. The similarities between the two films are certainly there, with Source Code’s main character, air force pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) forced to relive the same period of time over and over again as part of the top secret Source Code experiment. In reality, Source Code feels more akin to Déjà Vu, in that, like the 2006 Denzel Washington film, our hero must revisit a past time period (here the 8 minutes leading up to a devastating train bombing) in order to catch the terrorist responsible.

It’s a fantastic premise and there’s a lot that works in Source Code. The film is largely performance driven and Gyllenhaal – who has to carry the film – is especially strong. This is the actor at his most charismatic. However, Gyllenhaal is also highly convincing performance-wise – portraying a man bewildered and frustrated by his situation, but who, as a soldier, is also still resourceful, heroic and demonstrates a wonderfully wry sense of humour about the absurdity of his mission. As a bonus, Gyllenhaal also lands the most touching moment in the film, when he phones his father from inside the Source Code.

In terms of the rest of the cast, Michelle Monaghan competently fulfils her role as the kind-hearted young woman/love interest that Colter is inspired to save. Monaghan doesn’t leave as much of an impression though as Vera Farmiga, who is great as Goodwin, a morally conflicted air force captain roped into the Source Code project. Some of the best scenes in the film involve her anxiously dodging Colter’s demands for answers. Anyone who has ever had to deal with slippery, blame-dodging help centre staff will be able to identify.

These positives aside, Source Code is let down by its surprisingly brief 90 minute running time. The film feels like it could have benefited from an additional 10 to 15 minutes or so, to flesh out more of the “suspect” characters on board the train, and just generally build tension around Colter’s nearly impossible task. As it stands, the mystery central to Source Code feels too abruptly, and accidentally, solved to be satisfying.

The film’s ending too, while throwing in some ponder-worthy ambiguity, doesn’t seem able to decide whether it wants to be poignant or cheesy-happy. Admittedly Source Code has a lot more soul and brain than a lot of its recent genre counterparts – obsessed as the majority are with dazzling CGI visuals. However, in the end the film is only really worthy of a 7 out of 10. For cinemagoers it’ll probably briefly fill the "smart" void left by Inception, but it’s not a film you’ll be discussing months from now.


Tim said…
The trailer and first 10 minutes of the movie promised so much. Even the big twist midway through the movie was pretty good (if not entirely surprising). But the plot which wraps the whole Groundhog Day experience is just a type of murder mystery that has an incredibly weak resolution. And finally the ending is just Hollywood at its most naff.

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