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SOURCE CODE
(***½)

Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Duncan Jones
Written by:
Ben Ripley
Starring:
Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Running time:
94 minutes
Released:
04/01/11
Rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language.
"...a simple what-if and a simple puzzle, plopped into a ticking-clock narrative and giving rise to several fascinating insights into the human sense of the self."

Colter Stevens is in trouble.

Colter Stevens is in trouble, and he doesn’t know it.

Colter Stevens is in trouble, and he doesn’t know it. He’s on a train that’s about to explode.

Colter Stevens is in trouble, and he doesn’t know it. He’s on a train that’s about to explode, and he’s somehow been transported into another man’s body.

Colter Stevens is in trouble, and he doesn’t know it. He’s on a train that’s about to explode and he’s somehow been transported into another man’s body, and he must find the bomber and prevent a larger and far more lethal explosion that is in the works.

He has eight minutes to do it. Eight minutes during which he is inserted into that speeding train again and again by means of a mind meld with the brain of a victim of the bombing -- the source code of data from the man’s final breaths of life.

Hard-wired to a simulation device in a lab, Stevens -- inside the dead man, as it were -- scours those unsuspecting minutes repeatedly to glean information. Each time he rides the train he learns more, acts more pointedly, comes closer to fulfilling his mission -- which must, of course, be completed as soon as possible.

But back in the real world, where a mysterious group of scientists talk to him through an intermediary (Vera Farmiga), Stevens is increasingly unhappy. He doesn’t know where he ‘really’ is or how long he’s been there. He wants to save the people on the train -- that’s what soldiers do, after all. And he’s grown attached to the girl (Michelle Monaghan) with whom the dead man is traveling.

In the real world, though, they’re all the passengers are already dead (indeed, if they weren’t there wouldn’t even be any source code...). And besides: he doesn’t have enough time to both thwart the big disaster that awaits and to save the passengers. He has to sacrifice them to save millions of others.

This is the deliciously clever premise of “Source Code,” the new thriller from director Duncan Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley. Jones is following up his sensational 2009 debut, “Moon,” which shared with this film an air of old-fashioned science-fiction: a simple what-if and a simple puzzle, plopped into a ticking-clock narrative and giving rise to several fascinating insights into the human sense of the self.

In “Moon,” a lone man accidentally uncovered something startling about his identity; here, a man willingly subsumes himself in someone else’s life without having any concrete idea about the reality of his own situation. Both films present us with men who function as machines for their bosses and who gradually become more (and, ingeniously, less) human through their work. They’re sturdy and exceedingly well-made movies, and I bet the likes of Ray Bradbury and the late Isaac Asimov would enjoy them immensely.

Jones has cast both of his films extremely well. In “Moon,” Sam Rockwell summoned his wonted mania slowly and in tightly contained space and plotting. In “Source Code,” Jake Gyllenhaal imparts a vital physicality and vulnerability as Stevens -- and carries, as movie stars do, ironic traces of some of his other performances, particularly “Donnie Darko” and “Jarhead.” There’s more of an ensemble feel here than in “Moon," particularly on the train, but Farmiga provides intelligence and empathy, and Jeffrey Wright is wonderfully itchy, obsessive and askew as her boss.

Superficially, “Source Code” plays with some of the same themes as last month’s “The Adjustment Bureau.” But it’s made with so much more skill and craft and impact that it’s as if that other film were its made-for-TV doppelganger. This is hair-raising, clever and winning entertainment. Even if his protagonists aren’t entirely what they seem to be or think they are, Mr. Jones is, it’s increasingly clear, the real thing.

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.

SOURCE CODE © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2011 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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