Mania Review: Source Code - Mania.com



Mania Grade: A-

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Info:

  • Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden
  • Written by: Ben Ripley
  • Directed by: Duncan Jones
  • Studio: Summit Entertainment
  • Run Time: 94 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Series:

Mania Review: Source Code

Once more, with feeling.

By Rob Vaux     April 01, 2011

Science fiction for the thinking man isn’t quite an endangered species, though it remains sufficiently thin on the ground to raise a few eyebrows when it crops up. It takes a lot to come up with something truly original in a genre chock full of geniuses. And yet, every now and then, someone delivers a notion that truly catches us by surprise. Lightning strikes twice with director Duncan Jones, who did it once with the incredible Moon and now follows that up with the equally impressive Source Code.

To be sure, it can’t claim complete originality, owing a large debt to Groundhog Day among other films. But Jones understands how to trick his tale out in wholly unexpected ways, as well as keeping the characters in the forefront without sacrificing his nifty concept. Indeed, the only frustrating thing about it is that you can’t reveal too much without giving it all away. We begin on a Chicago commuter train, where decorated helicopter pilot Coulter Stevens(Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in another man’s body. In eight minutes, a bomb will detonate on the train, killing everyone onboard. He needs to deduce the bomber’s identity or the whole city may be next.
 
The good news is that he has more than one chance to get it right. How? Well, that’s part of the fun, as is the strict eight-minute deadline. How much can you learn in that time before everything goes boom? Stevens finds out the hard way as he slowly assembles the clues to determine whodunit it. Source Code works marvelously well on that simple level, delivering a twist-filled mystery that doesn’t skimp on the surprises. But Jones also thinks through the concepts behind it, then delivers them to us in a manner we can readily grasp. That’s no easy task when discussing wormholes and quantum physics.
 
Source Code uses its core notion to reveal an even more fascinating puzzle: Stevens periodically wakes up in an airtight capsule, while a dodgy Air Force captain (Vera Farmiga) sends him instructions through a remote camera. He smells a rat, but can’t determine the source of his fears, even as he gets zapped back to the train again and again.
 
Jones develops his dilemma with breathtaking clarity, keeping us focused on the key questions rather than bogging us down in technobabble and minutiae. That allows the characters to breathe a little bit, and even engage in an odd romance before the train explodes, as Stevens meets a pretty commuter (Michelle Monaghan) with the hots for his host body. Source Code has the self-respect to let them act like real people instead of just constructs of the plot. They react just as you or I would in similar circumstances: asking the same questions and freaking out in the same fittingly human manner. It provides a foundation for the proceedings that most sci-fi thrillers merely gloss over.
 
It also respects us enough to leave a few questions unanswered: something to chew over in the coffee shop afterwards while we digest the sights onscreen. Most films like to spoon feed us their points, pandering to the lowest common denominator lest somebody grow confused. Source Code understands the difference between “intrigued” and “lost,” and gives us exactly what we need to draw our own conclusions.
 
To wrap such thoughtfulness in such a taut and entertaining package is a rare feat indeed, one that truly makes science fiction a thing of beauty. Source Code oversteps its bounds only occasionally, and never so far as to seriously threaten its premise. Indeed, such moments only show how quietly daring it can be: willing to take some real risks rather than settle for business as usual. In the end, it may just be a thriller, but even straightforward entertainment can engage our intellect if approached with care and respect. Source Code delivers a marvelous good time, and leaves us with something more than an empty tub of popcorn for our troubles. In this era of would-be franchises and formulas scraping the bottom of the barrel, that constitutes a minor miracle.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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SarcasticCaveman 4/1/2011 1:01:18 AM

 HOLY POOP!  MANIA GIVING A MOVIE AN A-...I MIGHT HAVE TO SEE THIS ONE.

fatpantz 4/1/2011 2:13:20 AM

i did not plan on seeing this but a rob vaux A is worth a lot in my books....he has yet to disappoint me!!!

hanso 4/1/2011 3:41:52 AM

Having not seen the film but going by the reviews alone, all I can say is "Told ya".  

Oh and if you weren't planning on seeing the movie, please, for the love of all that is holy, go pay to watch this film.  Reward original properties, everything can't be prequels/sequels, reboots/reimaginings and remakes.  

Jeffaulburn 4/1/2011 5:17:37 AM

 You've convinced me, I shall actually go to the theatre to see this after your review :)

Now to convince my girlfriend, lol.
 

EagleManiac 4/1/2011 5:28:22 AM

Since Moon has become one of my favorite films, and that says a LOT for a modern movie, I think I may have to see this one. 

okonomiyaki4000 4/1/2011 5:33:09 AM

 Really? This looked pretty bad and the promo with Michio Kaku talking about how legit the science is just turned me off completely. And the title kind of sucks. Really I just can't stand Kaku though. 

jppintar326 4/1/2011 5:43:28 AM

I thought more about the Star Trek The Next Generation episode where the Enterprise blow up over and over again than Groundhog Day when I saw the previews for this.  I also thought this might be too similar to Deja Vu.  I don't know if I will see it or not in the theater but I will watch it eventually.

 

Wiseguy 4/1/2011 5:55:22 AM

I won't be paying for this but I think hanso should treat everyone here at mania by buying tickets for all of us

I'm going later but I'm paying for something else so my 13 bucks won't in any way end up in Duncan Jones' pockets.

wish 4/1/2011 7:31:24 AM

No love for Duncan Jones Wise?  Moon was really great and this didn't need the stellar review to get me out of the house, but as I've said before, this Rob is pretty damn good with his reviews so it certainly adds a little push!  I love the actors and I'm always down for a movie that wasn't done in the 80's first.

shac2846 4/1/2011 8:06:04 AM

Hell yes!!!!! Been ciked for this movie. The reviews have been excellent but this just cements it, I'm going and bet this will be the best movie of the year so far until the summer season starts. Wish Wise has this thing against directors that try to make good movies. It's not his fault it's just his preference. Although I can't see paying to see transformers and not paying to see this, I haven't been to a site yet that has given it a bad review. 

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