Sunday, April 3, 2011

TBG Sees: Source Code

A puzzling little action film from director Duncan Jones, Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens. His character is that rare military-trained cinematic protagonist who's not written as some sort of G.I. Joe caricature. Rather, Capt. Stevens awakens within the body of another man and -- not surprisingly -- freaks the f*** out.

He soon learns that a bomb has been detonated on a Chicago commuter train and he's been sent back in time to the exact same train -- eight minutes before it inevitably explodes -- to identify the bomber and stop him from unleashing further terrorist attacks on the city. Each time Capt. Stevens fails in his mission, he's sent right back to the train by a technologically-advanced, morally ambiguous Government agency with the same "eight-minutes-to-save-the-world" window.

Gyllenhaal is surprisingly believable as Capt. Stevens, who is kept in the dark -- figuratively and literally -- with regards to the handlers of his puppet strings. Early on, the battle-tested soldier is sloppy and paranoid as he chases red herrings, assaults anyone who looks at him sideways and struggles with the notion of saving hundreds of passengers who are, presumably, already dead.

Michelle Monaghan plays Christina Warren -- the would-be love interest of the man Capt. Stevens is trapped inside. (I know, I know...but, it works.) Appropriately, she's more confused than suspicious when her good friend -- a mild-mannered teacher, as far as she knows -- races back and forth and occasionally off the train in his pursuit of the bomber. The supporting cast is rounded out by Jeffrey Wright -- his Dr. Rutledge created the classified "Source Code" mission -- and Vera Farmiga, who does what she can with her role as Lt. Goodwin, the mission liaison between Dr. Rutledge and Capt. Stevens.

Source Code checks in at just over 90 minutes and moves along briskly enough. Yes, there's the obligatory plot twist, some shocking revelations about the shadowy agency Capt. Stevens works for and an oddly-timed exposition that arrives after 45 minutes of consistent stonewalling. The film's premise drains some of the tension out of the climactic sequence, but that point is recognized and turned into a satisfying conclusion.

I can understand the criticism that the film's final few scenes felt like they were tacked on after the initial test screenings, but the finish line actually enhanced the investment into the characters, plot and endearingly creaky dialogue ("One soldier to I dead?")

Obviously imperfect, but undeniably fun.

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