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Source Code A Breath of Fresh Air in 2011

Source Code
Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Ben Ripley
Summit, 2011

Duncan Jones made a great debut a couple of years ago with Moon, the cerebral sci-fi flick starring Sam Rockwell that said, “Yeah, I’m David Bowie’s son, but I’m going to succeed without using the name.”  I truly believe that the world needs science fiction like this in the landscape of overdone comic book adaptations, a deluge of romantic comedies, and silly sequels.  A couple of weeks ago, we had a more-than-decent sci-fi drug thriller in Limitless, the type of movie I’ll continue to pimp throughout the year, mainly because original work will be few and far between in 2011.  Source Code is another very fun original sci-fi film.

That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have precedents, of course.  It has moments harkening back to 12 Monkeys (or the French original, La Jetee), Minority Report, Groundhog Day, Avatar, and especially, that Star Trek: TNG episode entitled, “Cause and Effect.”  But it’s a fantastic what-if story with its own set of rules and thus the comparisons don’t become overbearing.

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself all of the sudden on a train, with the comely Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) coming to sit next to him and telling him, “I took your advice…it was really good advice.”  A drink spills, a conductor asks for tickets, the train stops, a man loses his wallet, but is found and given back by a good Samaritan, and when the train leaves again, it explodes.  We then find Colter in some sort of pod with screens all around, with military lady Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) asking him if he knows who the bomber is or where the bomb was located.  Colter is now doubly-confused…he was serving a tour in Afghanistan just yesterday, he claims, and now he’s in some pod being asked questions about another situation he had no chance in hell of figuring out.  It’s very important he figures out who the bomber is because the bomber is going to strike again soon and in a more spectacular fashion.

But, he gets small pieces of information and is sent back to the train, 8 minutes before it explodes.  He’s not actually himself on the train, but someone named Sean Fentriss.  He’s a teacher, and Christina is a colleague, could-be romantic interest.  He fails several times to find the bomber, although he finds the actual bomb fairly early.  Whenever he returns to his pod and his contact Goodwin, he also begins to piece together how he got into this situation, how the process works, and also begins to wonder if there’s a chance to prevent the bomb from going off in the train in the first place.  The creator of the pseudo-time-travel system, Dr. Rutledge (the always fantastically understated Jeffrey Wright), assures him that this is not time travel, more like time re-assignment, and that he cannot change the past.  It’s a simulation, electromagnetic waves from a dead man’s brain filling in the sights and sounds, an interactive recording of the last eight minutes of his life.

This movie works on several levels, as sci-fi, as a thriller, a drama…it’s watchable at every moment.  Also, it contains some natural humor, because Colter/Sean has to do things humans normally would not do on a train, making other humans uncomfortable.  It’s brisk, clocking in at 93 minutes, and I’m not sure there’s one slow moment in the whole film.  We can celebrate writer Ben Ripley here, because this could have been ultra-confusing, and I think he not only does a good job of explaining what’s going on, but the loose ends and the potential logical lapses appear to be airtight according to the rules.  This coming from a guy whose previous credits are Species III and some other chapter in the Species franchise.

This is a ray of hope just before the summer, where less than a few of the movies being released look any good.

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