Saturday, April 2, 2011

Think piece 'Source Code' is terrifically paced, sci-fi thriller

By Steve Crum

Source Code is best described as a terroristic Groundhog Day, a reference to Harold Ramis’ already classic 1993 comedy-fantasy of a man (Bill Murray) repeatedly reliving the same day. While Source Code is anything but funny, it does involve a guy reliving a seven minute span, again, again, and again. Each time, he hones in closer on a mad bomber, with the goal of preventing detonation.

This is an unconventional think piece, impressively helmed by Duncan Jones, and penned by Ben Ripley (Species III). Reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, Source Code is pretty much an original, self-described in ads as a “techno-thriller/action” picture. It is one of those movies that might require a second viewing to pick up missed nuances, due to plotting and characterizations.

Intellectual sci-fi fans will love it. The Transformers and Battle: Los Angeles visualists will get headaches from thinking too much.

A dictionary explanation of the term, “source code,” means text written in computer programming language, “specifying actions to be performed by a computer that will be directly read and executed.” Jake Gyllenhaal sensitively portrays Army Captain Colter Stevens. It is he who performs as the “source code,” having to carry out actions ordered by a seemingly nefarious government project, headed by the scientist Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), and assisted by Captain Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). Goodwin is the one with whom Stevens communicates most often, remotely, via microphone and computer. In fact, Stevens is entirely by himself in some capsule-like trappings, in uniform, and unable to free himself. From the beginning, it appears he is being experimented upon, and thus confined. His only link is with Goodwin and Rutledge at headquarters.

Of course, that does not count Stevens’ repetitious leaps, much like TV’s Quantum Leap, into a stranger’s (named Shawn) body. Slowly, Stevens discovers the reasons why he is being transported. Looking into a mirror on the train early on, he sees what others see: Shawn’s face. Yet we see Stevens’/Gyllenhaal’s mug. Clever device, this, again lifted from QL. On each return visit to the commuter train, Stevens becomes more familiar with his car’s inhabitants, particularly Christina (Michelle Monahan), the babe who is always sitting across from him. As clues lead Stevens to his objective, Christina becomes, more and more, a vital part of the mission.

Duncan Jones gives Source Code an almost unnerving sense of urgency, while maintaining the mystery surrounding Stevens’ existence. The hows and whys are answered by the triple-twist of a finale, which left at least one viewer at the screening asking me, “Do you understand what we just saw?” I explained it to her, but I won’t reveal it here. Let me amend that by saying, I tried to explain it to her.

There are times, particularly within Stevens’ confined quarters between leaps, that are unbearably claustrophobic--if being unable to get out of a dim, closely walled area bothers you like it does me. There are also times of tender, bittersweet caring, between Stevens and Christina, and Stevens and his father (voiced by Scott Bakula--star of Quantum Leap!).

Clearly, this first major film by rock star David Bowie’s son, Duncan, is a terrific indication of career success.

GRADE: On an A to F Scale: A-

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