Sometimes I can be a miserable old bastard. Initially, I can convince myself that I’ve enjoyed a film, a book, or a piece of music just as much as everyone else and yet, days later, one tiny little flaw will have worked its way under my skin and, festering there, caused me such intense irritation that I force myself to disavow all of my original opinions. So straight away, let me get down in irrefutable black and white that, for huge chunks of its fairly brisk 93 minute running time, I enjoyed ‘Source Code’ immensely, and found it to be a refreshing and exciting blast of Sci-fi hokum that will thoroughly deserve the substantial box office revenues it will no doubt generate when it opens in April.
However, I’ll also admit that I had some problems with it that, pedantic as I am, I found it difficult to get past; problems that escalated in the aftermath of seeing it in a way that they perhaps wouldn’t have done for the less anally retentive amongst you.
But first the positives. ‘Source Code’ tells the story of U.S. Airman, Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal), who finds himself repeatedly in a time loop, on a commuter train bound for Chicago, a train that is due to explode in exactly 8 minutes time as the result of a terrorist bomb. Owing to some super-dooper experimental technology (the source code), the military is able to send Colter back in time and onto that train via the consciousness of a man who died on it earlier the same day. They do this so that he can look for clues to the identity of the bomber that will enable them to locate the fiend and hopefully prevent an even bigger bomb going off in the city later that same day. As Colter sets about his mission with no small degree of determination, it’s soon apparent that this is a film that is going to deliver tension in spades, most of which is generated by Colter’s efforts to find out as much as he can before the bomb goes off and he is forced to start the process all over again. I found each of these buttock clenching 8 minute countdowns to be the cinematic equivalent of buckaroo and the woman sat next to me flinched so often that I was a bag of nerves by the time of Colter’s third sortie.
Gyllenhaal’s intensity is perfectly matched to the breakneck pacing of Duncan Jones’s direction throughout these scenes, all of which pass by in a dizzying but nonetheless satisfactory blur. They’re also punctuated by moments when Colter is abruptly brought back to his own reality to feed back the information he has gleaned and receive further briefing from Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), a military figure desperate for Colter’s info, who also seems to know a lot more about the source code than she is willing to let on. While these moments provide much of the exposition required to understand how all this jiggery pokery is supposed to work, they never feel laboured and in fact offer a supplementary narrative thread that lends impetus and depth to Colter’s extraordinary predicament.
Other plusses are the performances of Jeffrey Wright as a suspicious government scientist with a verbal delivery that sounds like the G-man from Half Life, and Michelle Monaghan as Christina, a fellow passenger whose developing relationship with Coulter is particularly poignant as we see her live out the final 8 minutes of her life again and again. I also had a weakness for Chris Bacon’s film score, as it’s the sort that never fails to work on me. It’s one of those big booming soundtracks that are so endemic to disaster movies and fast paced thrillers, all kettle drums and brass as we take in the opening aerial shots of Chicago, then suddenly giving way to a swooping string section as the camera plummets and moves in alongside the speeding train. I’m a sucker for that sort of stuff, perhaps because it gives a film the sort of Hitchcock cachet that never does any movie any harm.
So it’s tense; very tense, and this, combined with the strength of its leads, some exhilarating direction and the aforementioned violins, all meant that this was one ride I was happy to go along for.
However, the ending of ‘Source Code’ left me somewhat bewildered. As it dawned on me that things were going to play out in a way I hadn’t really expected them to, I seriously thought that I must have zoned out for a brief but crucial 30 seconds of plot development. Questions about where, when and who silently formed on my lips and even as the tinkly piano on the soundtrack was urging me to feel something, I couldn’t go along with it as I began to suspect that the ending might have been a bit of a cheat. Up to that point, the story had been operating well within the laws of its own logic, having satisfactorily established the rules of the source code and what can and can’t be done within those rules, but then the ending goes and subverts them rather too neatly. But some Science Fiction movies hold fast to the laws of their own Universe, whereas others merely use them as a general guide, content to bend, if not break them, when it makes dramatic sense to do so. So I suppose I can grudgingly admit that, for the majority of the audience, the ending will feel right, even if it doesn’t do right.
But overall, this is a highly enjoyable movie that will flash past so quickly you may feel like seeing it again the very next day. It’s not my favourite type of Science Fiction, playing fast and loose with its own rules as I suspect it sometimes does and I still can’t shake the suspicion that I missed something. If I did, be kind enough to let me know won’t you?
Fast paced, nail-biting, sci-fi thrills from a director who is going to deliver some real treats for as long as he’s making films. Being such a stubborn curmudgeon, I still can’t quite bring myself to go along with the ending but anyone who can ignore the inconsistent logic should feel free to add another half a star to the rating at the top of this review.