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Movie Review: Interestingly complex

Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal star in ‘Source Code.’

The premise of Source Code would be hard for most people to wrap their heads around. It’s not surprising that Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has a particularly hard time because he’s … well … I’m having a hard time deciding whether explaining the situation Colter is in would constitute a spoiler. It’s that complex, so high-concept that when the man who put him in the situation, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), explains it to Colter, it’s almost silly. Oh, I’m going to do it.

Colter has been horribly injured in Iraq, and while he can’t talk, walk or live without life support, his brain works. So, he’s very confused when he wakes up and discovers, first, that he’s on a commuter train to Chicago with a woman he doesn’t know (Michelle Monaghan) who calls him by the wrong name, and second, when that train explodes. He wakes up again in a strange cockpit with a military official named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) talking to him through a computer monitor, asking him if he found out who planted the bomb.

Through some rather unconvincing science and tech speak, Colter is told that he is reliving the last eight minutes of one of the train’s passengers who was blown to bits in a terrorist attack. He is going to relive these eight minutes over and over again to find out who planted the bomb.

Like the good soldier he is, Colter takes his orders. Even when Rutledge tells him that he’s not time travelling, just doing some deep, rather weird, psychoanalysis of a dead man, he refuses to believe it. He wants to prevent the bombing and save the girl.

Complicated, huh?

It’s Groundhog Day meets Tron meets Inception. And while it’s not as good as any of these three, Source Code is inventive and engrossing.

Much of why the film is so absorbing is this complex premise; screenwriter Ben Ripley has tapped into both the fear of terrorism and the deep, wrenching desire to be able to prevent something like 9/11: If only someone knew and did something. If only someone could go back and stop them.

Ripley takes this wish-fulfillment fantasy and throws in a love story, a morally conflicted ally and two easy-to-loathe villains – the mysterious terrorist and the cynical, careerist Dr. Rutledge.

It helps that the movie is cast as well as any movie that won Oscars last month. Jake Gyllenhaal is as good as he’s ever been as the confused, terrified, brave, desperate and hopeful Colter Stevens. It’s unfortunate for most women and for gay audiences that he’s never shirtless, but his wide, fearful eyes, fraught energy and chiseled good looks make it easy to identify with, love and root for him.

His chemistry with Michelle Monaghan, who is always good and always under-utilized, adds to the tension. You want them to be together, and you understand why they want it, too.

As always, Farmiga, who is best known for The Departed and Up in the Air, is preternaturally believable as Colter’s dedicated and sympathetic handler. While Colleen ends up being the lynchpin of the film’s third act, I couldn’t help but feel that Farmiga should be the star of a bigger, better movie.

My main gripe with the film is that it has been marketed as a thriller, and while there are a few scenes that got my heart pumping, Source Code isn’t thrilling. It’s suspenseful, and it’s philosophically interesting, but the director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, is either too smart or too inexperienced to use the cheap tricks needed to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

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Posted by on Apr 7, 2011. Filed under Movie Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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