james debate
james debate

Sunday 29 May 2011

Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Ben Ripley
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
Running time 93 minutes

Zowie Bowie follows up his critically acclaimed debut Moon with another foray into intelligent science fiction.

source code duncan jones

Source Code ditches the minimalist aesthetic that worked so well for Duncan Jones in Moon and delves into a more traditional blockbuster thriller mould, along the lines of an Inception or Twelve Monkeys.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, a US soldier who is repeatedly sent into the memories of a man recently deceased in a terrorist attack in order to try and find details which could lead to his arrest in the real world. At first Stevens knows nothing about his situation, including where he is or what he's being expected to do, an amnesia angle that puts our protagonist in the same shoes as the audience. Information is fed out slowly and with expert pacing as little by little we get a glimpse of the full picture.

As with Moon, Jones delves deeper into philosophical questions of identity and autonomy, whilst grappling with science fiction staples that have stumped many film makers in the past such as quantum mechanics and neuroscience. The weakness of this film comes from the latter, with an underlying premise that holds together about as well as Donald Trump's hairpiece on a windy day.

It's hard to elaborate without giving too much away but in brief, (POSSIBLE SPOILERS) Source Code never seems able to decide whether it wants to deal with a time machine or a Matrix-style simulation, with a technical exposition that describes the latter but inexplicably leads to consequences that would arise from the former. Indeed one is left with the impression that the script writer himself is unsure of the difference between the two concepts and we are left with a sort of a vague, muddled conceit to the film where one minute we're talking about an artificial recreation of events and the next we're talking about changing the past and time travel.

The mark of good science fiction is where even the most preposterous and fantastical of premises will nevertheless follow through logically to some degree (for example, Inception), the narrative has to flow through the fantasy. By contrast this feels more like a writer desperately jumping from one half baked fantasy to the next in order to achieve his desired narrative outcome.

That being said, I still like this film a surprising amount. The fact that Source Code manages to succeed overall owes itself to two things.

One word you are going to hear being used a lot to describe this film is "disciplined", and this is exactly how I would describe the direction. Duncan Jones, continuing to impress in a very different style of film from his debut, orchestrates proceedings at such a masterful pace that you will honestly find yourself too absorbed in the onscreen events to really over-think things, except when he wants you to.

Then there is the acting. The fine performances from Source Code's leads rightly draws the attention away from the shaky premise and focuses it on the character and human element of the story. Gyllenhaal in particular carries the film in this regard, drawing us into these utterly absurd events with his typical charisma, adding a comic edge to dire proceedings, and making believers out of all of us. Ultimately I didn't even care how solid the actual premise was, because I was so caught up in the character story onscreen. This is how the film manages to succeed in spite of itself.

A film like this will only ever work if it can make the audience believe in what's happening on screen. In the absence of a convincingly coherent premise, Source Code manages to do this by focusing on a strong human element. As for Duncan Jones, his career continues to advance, with confirmation that he won't go down as just another one hit wonder.

Human aspect
Effective direction

Poorly constructed premise that screams out "we're not even trying"

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