SXSW FILM FESTIVAL

SXSW Review: Source Code Doesn't Quite Live Up to Jones' Potential

by
March 12, 2011

Source Code Review

After making the thought-provoking and minimalist yet ultra-fresh sci-fi Moon, director Duncan Jones (@ManMadeMoon) has done something few thought he would. He has directed Source Code, a dramatic story with a science fiction heart that makes one question where the young director's future is headed. It's not that Source Code is bad. It builds suspense around characters and presents a reasonably fresh concept. However, Jones already seems to be on sort of an auto-pilot here in the second feature of his still budding career. The film feels safe, commercial, and about as straight-forward and devoid of edge as one can get.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, a soldier chosen for a top secret military project. Under the direction of a mission controller played by Vera Farmiga, Stevens' consciousness is transplanted into the body of a man on a train, a train that earlier that day was the target of a terrorist attack. His mission in the eight minutes he has inside this body is to uncover who bombed the train so that a future attack can be prevented.

The challenge may have been creating a timeline of only eight minute, having those moments play out over and over again, and keep them from ever growing tedious. In that, Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley succeed. Stevens is at first disoriented as to where he is or what his mission is. As the film progresses and the scene on the train plays out continually, he begins piecing the puzzle together, eliminating possible suspects and getting close to the culprit.

The monkey wrench that gets thrown in is in the form of Michelle Monaghan's Christina, a friend of the man Stevens has leapt into. A connection is formed between the two, and Stevens begins questioning whether what he is seeing is really just a recording of a predetermined event or an actual reality that can be altered. It sets up for an overarching question of fate, but the trigger is never fully pulled. Instead, the story unfolds, moves in a decidedly forward manner, and like the train at the center of Stevens' mission never deviates from its path.

At first the bond Stevens forms with Christina is a bit jarring. At first he questions her materiality thinking it all to be a training exercise and her a pre-programmed character designed to distract him from the mission at hand. Once her reality is confirmed, though, his attention seems to snap into a connection with her. Jolting as it is at first, Gyllenhaal and Monaghan end up making it work, and it's a minor speed bump along their path of affinity.

Despite what the mission controller and scientist in charge of the project, played with all the goofy dynamism and eccentricities of a James Bond villain by Jeffrey Wright, Stevens becomes determined to save not only the millions of lives at stake in the forthcoming attack but also the lives of those on the train. It doesn't matter that he is told time and time again, as the audience is by proxy, that this mission is futile. The words "that's not how it works" seem to just bounce off his ears without the slightest hint of penetrating his thoughts. He literally becomes a man on a mission, but the audience is left to hear the same speech delivered time and time again. It's not the eight minutes of the actual event that grow tedious. It's the hard-headedness of our hero and the ensuing lecture that wears the patience down.

Jones' direction is just about as straight-forward as the screenplay in Source Code. There are moments of flare spread throughout none of which have to do with the overly CG explosion on the train. Jones offers a handful of creative shots. Some of these are even hindered by the usage of computer effects, but they offer a hope of a director who has something to say and an incredibly inventive way of saying it.

The pod in which Stevens' is transported to his mission calls back on the minimalism Jones brought to Moon, the simple set that requires one actors talents to make it all real. Some effects thrown into these pod moments work quite effectively, as well, far more so than the grander stage the trains sequences are presented on.

There are moments of real drama found in Source Code as well, and Jones' confidence is allowed to seep into these scenes, to hold the camera steady on his actors' faces and let the moment resonate. A phone call late in the film offers the most genuine emotion the film has to offer while also giving us one of the most inspired voice casting in recent memory. Gyllenhaal may not be as inspired a choice as that voice, but he is quite good in the lead role here. Required to carry just about every scene and able to bring both levity and emotion to the table, his confidence exudes in the character.

Ripe with possibilities that never seem to manifest, and a straight and narrow path from beginning to mind-numbingly expository conclusion, Source Code is a film of hope. Hope first and foremost that it's not an indication of the commercial and very nearly blunted direction Duncan Jones' filmography is headed. It's a definite recession from the cool and cutting Moon, which could be why it was such a disappointment. It's good but not great, and it has come from a director who has shown true signs of the potential for greatness.

Jeremy's SXSW Rating: 5.5 out of 10

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  • why???
    Dude stop putting your opinion of the movie in the title of the review.
    • http://www.firstshowing.net Alex Billington
      Why not? I don't understand the complaint. What do you want? Review: Movie Name and that's it? I like that he instantly gives us an idea of if it's good or bad right in the title, makes me more interested to read on and find out exactly what he says.
      • Gh
        Maybe Jones toned down his stuff till he has enough money to allow him creative control. From the trailer of this, you clearly see that it's for the mainstream. That guy is no Nolan as far as creative control is concerned, so maybe you're right. but the best is yet to come
      • FRG
        I know a lot of people who don't like to be given expectations of a movie before they watch it so they really try and avoid reviews or even talking to other people who have seen the movie.
    • Jace
      If anything this saves you from reading an article you may have otherwise skipped over. If you don't care to know why he didn't enjoy the movie you can pass it on by. Seems like a time saver to me.
  • Day
    I think this was his Insomnia. I NOT SAYING IN ANY WAY THAT INSOMNIA IS A POOR FILM, but Nolan in a way had to make it to show he could direct a bigger star after Memento; consider this: it's the only film Nolan didn't write..... Same scenario for Duncan Jones in choosing to make Source Code. It's a bigger film than his debut with bigger stars. If it's successful at the box-office this is a huge win for Jones! As for the future of Duncan Jones, I still have faith this guy has some amazing ideas in his head that we will hopefully see in the future. However I will not pay to go see Source Code though after reading this review, but thanks Jeremy!
    • Cooldued_1
      i don't know about that insomnia has like 90 % rotten tomato, and i think that's his most under appreciate work to date. The reason i really like that movie is the acting --- the last great pacino performance, the tone, the atmosphere, and the second half of the film. I cant wait to see source code, i hope i enjoy it.
      • http://twitter.com/gimmesumsuga Mathieu David
        The Insomnia comparison is one I made on Twitter as well. The point I was going for with that - and I suspect 'Day' feels the same way - is that Nolan's Insomnia remake is his most functional and straightforward movie to date. He directed it to show his capability as a commercial studio filmmaker and skill with A-list actors following an impressive indie breakthrough. For all its technical accomplishments and strong performances, it has the least personality of all his movies (blunting the edges of the superb and amoral Norwegian original) and if you tried to predict where his career might go at that moment in time it wouldn't have been totally implausible to see him continue as a classy but unexciting Sam Mendes/Michael Apted clone. Fortunately he didn't take that path, but Jones is now at the same crossroads. He's apparently made something entertaining and accessible, but where will he go from here? More of the same? Or, will he use its potential success to open doors and find funding for future personal projects like Mute? Fingers crossed for the latter, eh?
        • Day
          Right on the money! I am still excited to see what Jones comes up with next, but I will pass on this one until it hits Bluray.
        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ32HAF57JDNQSEPAW6IVJRKPM Rashad
          It has all the workings of a classic noir film. The cat and mouse game between the leads is great. You guys bitch so much about everything. I hate internet people.
    • Anonymous
      So it only takes one bad review to convince you not to pay for a movie?
  • BinaryBob101
    It's a headline, why should the opinion be omitted?
  • CiKleft
    Alex - its also obvious you don't really understand how the movie industry works. I'm sure Duncan made a film that he's very proud of - yet at the same time, I'm also sure that at some point during production the studio meddled with his original vision, and he would have been forced to make some sacrifices. I too caught the film yesterday and after reading the original script by Ben Ripley you can certainly see it's a lot less sci-fi and edgy. It's been dramatically dumbed down. Now that's the problem right there - studios are forcing film makers to play it safe and not take risks anymore - even though this film was in many ways a risk - but it's really not the directors fault a lot of the time. Duncan is trying to break in and find his foot hold, so in many ways, he has to play along with the studio number crunchers and suits. That's the movie biz in a nutshell these days. Corporations that don't care about art, vision, or risky, provocative storytelling. All they do is watch the numbers. All they care about is the bottom line. I'm sure Duncan knew that going in.
    • Coviekiller23
      Alex didn't' write this
      • CiKleft
        Or whomever wrote it.
    • http://www.firstshowing.net Alex Billington
      Yea, this was written by Jeremy Kirk. I'm not at SXSW, he is covering the festival for FirstShowing.net this year. You can find his name listed in the byline underneath the title on this page and here's his intro article for covering the 2011 fest: http://www.firstshowing.net/2011/jeremy-heads-to-the-sxsw-film-festival-in-austin-coverage-soon/ That said, I've seen the film and I actually agree with your opinion more than Jeremy's. I really liked it too, but I think it's a "safe" follow-up for Jones, but that doesn't matter. The film had some great moments and I enjoyed it.
    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HJ32HAF57JDNQSEPAW6IVJRKPM Rashad
      edit.
  • ate
    After the abominable grade he assigned Rango, I don't trust anything this guy reviews.
    • http://twitter.com/gimmesumsuga Mathieu David
      Like any review, it's just an opinion, not fact, and he's entitled to express his views as we all are. I still want to see this and anticipate liking it more than Jeremy did, but you never know...
    • Seriously?
      You are completely ridiculous. You need to let people speak their mind. NO ONE is telling you that this is fact, this is merely Jeremy's opinion (and a very well written one at that.) Please grow up and understand that not everyone needs to enjoy the same films.
  • http://www.facebook.com/lukini Lucas Rios
    I really do hope you're wrong!
  • Anonymous
    god the comments on this one are ridiculous
  • Tester
    Please dont let this site turn into AICN nonsense
  • SilverSurfer
    Source Code is Jake Gyllenhaal's movie so if you like it, which I did, credit Jake and if you are disappointed don't blame Duncan Jones who did a terrific job.
  • Cody W.
    Thought it was great, I give credit to Gyllenhaal, thought he was the driving force behind it all.

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