by Mel Valentin
The name ďDuncan JonesĒ may not be familiar to you, but it certainly will be after the debut of his second film as a director, "Source Code," an efficiently directed science-fiction action film thatís already been described as ďGroundhog Day with a bomb.Ē Jonesí first film, "Moon," a science-fiction drama set in the near future (on the moon, of course), received praise for Jonesí understated direction, thought-provoking story, the use of practical effects instead of CG, and Sam Rockwellís award-worthy performance as "Moon'sí" central character, a lonely miner weeks away from completing his contract before he can return to his family on Earth. "Source Code" is more action-oriented and, consequently, less thought provoking, but it signals Jonesí facility, not just with the science-fiction genre, but with mid-budget filmmaking and the demands thereof for clear, concise, mainstream-oriented storytelling.Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a helicopter pilot and Afghanistan veteran, awakens on a train headed for Chicago. He canít recall how he got there or why the attractive woman, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), sitting across from him, recognizes him and calls Colter by a different name. When he retreats, disoriented and confused, to a restroom, the face that greets him isnít his own. Panic gives way to Colterís army training. He assumes heís inside a sophisticated computer simulation undergoing a test of some kind (he's probably seen The Matrix multiple times). Before he can find out more about what he thinks is a simulation, the train blows up, killing close to two hundred passengers, including Colter (or rather the body heís inhabiting) and Christina.
"Grenre-based filmmaking doesn't get any better than...."
Colter awakens inside a capsule of some kind. A face and voice on a monitor, Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), a military officer, explains Colterís mission: To relive the last eight minutes of a schoolteacherís life to discover the identity of the bomber and the bomberís next target, presumably metropolitan Chicago. Goodwin and the projectís team leader, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), initially attempt to stonewall Colter, giving him minimal information, pushing him to stay on point and on mission while sending him back to the same eight minutes repeatedly. Any one of the trainís passengers could be the bomber. The bomber could be male, female, African-American, Caucasian, or Middle-Eastern. He (or she) could have a partner.
Each time Colter returns to the past, he makes different choices, some better considered than others. Over repeated journeys into the past, Colter strikes up a relationship, first platonic, then romantic with Christina. In the vague, ambiguous explanation that ultimately follows, Rutledge and Goodwin explain that Colterís not traveling back in time, but traveling (more or less) to a parallel, branching reality. In their reality and Colterís, however, events canít be changed, the passengers, including Christina, canít be saved. The repeated trips to the pseudo-past, however, create physical and mental strains on Colter.
Colterís time capsule shows signs of stress and impending failure, an external reflection of Colter's deteriorating psyche. Despite everything he's told by Goodwin and Rutledge, he canít help but to attempt the impossible: stop the bomb on the train, find the bomber, and disarm the other, much larger bomb, in essence creating a new, parallel reality to the original, something Rutledge repeatedly says lies outside the realm of the possible, but in a film centered on time travel, pseudo or otherwise, anything is possible.
Source Code eventually answers the mystery of Colter's location (in space and time) and explains, however briefly and unsatisfactorily, the nature of the ďsource code.Ē The Powers-That-Be can drop his consciousness into the body of one of the passengers, a passenger apparently chosen for his similar body type and psychological profile as Colter. The mechanics of this procedure remains purposely murky. Quantum something or other gets a brief mention as an explanation for Stevensí time travel and body jumping, but only to provide Source Code with a semblance or patina of scientific plausibility.
Ben Ripley received solo screenwriting credit for Moon, a rarity in contemporary Hollywood where studio-based producers drive mainstream filmmaking and scriptwriters tend to share story and screenplay credit. Ripleyís script effectively juggles the various demands of genre-based, narrative storytelling, efficiently setting up the science-fiction premise, establishing characters and the backstories necessary to suggest dimensionality and depth, moving between the different realities on and off the train with minimal exposition, mixing in ethical dilemmas and socio-political realities without affecting narrative momentum, ultimately creating an emotionally satisfying, poignant journey for the central character while casting a light, however briefly, on military veterans and their respective mental and physical states.Jones deserves special mention for his restrained filmmaking approach, a classical focus on visual composition and unobtrusive camera movements, should be applauded by moviegoers eager for a respite from the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking (i.e., quick cuts, shaky cam, incoherent action choreography and editing) and supported by studio executives eager to find the next big thing (as far as filmmakers go) who will help maintain or replenish a Hollywood studio's coffers.
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originally posted: 04/02/11 04:58:55