Movie making in times of recession calls for restraint, a caustic word on the ears of any Hollywood producer, but an idea that the creators of “Source Code” take seriously and with surprisingly enjoyable results. This high-action, science-fiction thriller from director Duncan Jones (“Moon”), staring Jake Gyllenhaal (“Love and Other Drugs,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and Michelle Monaghan (“Due Date,” “Eagle Eye”), manages to show a fiscally responsible level of creative asceticism by combing a high-tech plotline with classic Hitchcockian storytelling techniques.
Though “Source Code” is at times a quiet, meditative film not unlike Mr. Jones’ astounding directorial debut “Moon,” the film by no means lacks the excitement promised in trailers. The audience is immediately thrust in the perspective of the bewildered Colter Stevens, played by Mr. Gyllenhaal, an American Army helicopter pilot who wakes up on a train hurtling toward Chicago having subsumed the identity of another man. Seated across from Colter in the commuter train is Ms. Monaghan’s Christina Warren, a co-worker and love interest of the former inhabitant of the body that Colter now occupies. Colter spends the first minutes of the movie running up and down the rail car like a chicken lately separated from its head, desperately trying to piece together how he was transferred from the battlefields of Afghanistan to the fields of upper Illinois.
When a bomb tears through the train, incinerating the shell shocked Colter and the confused Christina, Colter is transported once again, this time waking up dressed in his fatigues, strapped into an unknown contraption. Here, the immobile Colter and the disoriented audience are introduced to Captain Colleen Goodwin, Colter’s Air Force liaison on a secretive and imperative mission to save the city of Chicago.
Captain Goodwin roughly outlines the situation for Colter: in essence, Colter is an involuntary participant in one of the initial deployments of a cutting-edge experimental military technology called Source Code. Developed by Dr. Rutledge, played by Jeffery Wright, Source Code allows a person to inhabit the body of a dead person for eight minutes prior to his demise. The subject of the program may be reinserted into the body of the recently deceased, replaying the same eight minutes ad nauseum, as “Source Code” does for the majority of its roughly 90-minute running time.
In the eight minutes Source Code affords, Colter can explore the scene of a deadly terrorist attack on the Chicago bound train, hopefully discovering clues that will lead authorities to the bomber who remains at large. Colter chafes at his assignment at the outset, demanding Captain Goodwin explain the baffling circumstances surrounding his participation in the Source Code program. As the details come into focus, the story blossoms into a psychological contest between Colter, Captain Goodwin, and Dr. Rutledge as they struggle to stymie the terrorist plot.
With its highly technological premise and plot driven by terrorist machinations, “Source Code” is a film firmly grounded in the zeitgeist of the past decade, part of the popular and profitable sub-genre of terrorist thrillers. Narratively, “Source Code” is the product of the fearful fascination with terrorist tales that erupted into the American national consciousness following the attacks on the World Trade Center, a fascination hardly likely to diminish with the death of Osama bin Laden.
The film’s limited, claustrophobic setting, along with its emphasis on suspense over surprise, however, evokes Hitchcock and the Hollywood thrillers of old. Mr. Jones brings the classically-grounded direction necessary to lift “Source Code” out of the often mediocre mire of terrorist thrillers, making it a stylistically and philosophically intriguing ride well worth the time.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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