Monday, September 19, 2011

Source Code

PCMR Verdict: Everything is iterative: particularly this tidy, enjoyable popcorn actioner that shouldn't disappoint.

PCMR Rating: 6.5/10

Louis C.K. has a great bit of material where he makes an observation that has a hint of genius about it: "everything is amazing nowadays, and nobody cares." Think of how apathetic we have become to so much modern technology that enables our lives: things like high-speed broadband, routine air travel and, er, high-speed broadband on planes. (Nice - Ed) Louis' point - or at least PCMR's take on Louis' point - is that technology itself isn't a problem: it's just that we're so bombarded with technological progress these days, apathy has become an understandable coping mechanism. ("Oh look, there's another new version of iTunes? ... meh...")

The lesson here: over-exposure to technology - even the awesome stuff - can engender mental fatigue. A case in point related to movies: CGI.

'Rise of The Planet of the Apes' demonstrated how the technology could be used, both for good and bad, but surely one man above all has become totally synonymous with the abuse of CGI, and caused mental anguish to thousands of over-25's the world over in the process. 'Bay Syndrome' effectively defines this apathy towards movie CGI: after the 47th massive explosion, the CGI might still be as awesome as the 46th, but I just don't care any more.

Happily, Michael Bay had no involvement in Source Code. Instead, a certain Duncan Jones has the reins for this, his sophomore flick. If you've not seen his first, the most excellent 'Moon', then dear reader, I encourage you to take a two hour break from reading this review, and go seek it out. As a convincer, among its many great qualities, 'Moon' features the best use of emoticons in movie history. (Competing with..? - Ed)

And this is one of the fundamental differences between Jones and Bay: understatement. Or, to put it another way, Jones understands the power of technology in movies, and how to use it sparingly, to greatest effect. Kevin Spacey's GERTY robot in Moon only has a small number of simple smiley faces to express his so-called 'feelings', but the device is chillingly effective: when GERTY's smile changes to a frown, the audience's mood shifts with it.

The writing credit for 'Source Code' goes to Ben Ripley, and interestingly, he seems to share this understated approach. From early on in the movie, the dialogue encourages us to forget about the technology that is enabling this crazily imaginative premise. Jake Gyllenhall is constantly told not to think, just to 'do'. The focus is more on people and details than on expensive gadgets or green-screen whizz-bangs..

On the premise: in a nutshell, Gyllenhaal is repeatedly reliving 8 minutes on a train as someone else, in order to prevent a terrorist attack. It's unashamedly borrowing from a number of influences (Quantum Leap, 24, Groundhog Day, 12 Monkeys) but somehow it nimbly avoids being overly derivative.

Much of the credit for this has to go to the skill with which Jones reshoots the 8 minute iterations, with subtle differences each time they re-play. Credit is also due to the likeability of his main players. As befits an action-hero role of the "what's happening to me?" genre, Gyllenhaal is suitably grizzled and Keanu-confused (is that a real word? - Ed) Also, Michelle Monaghan manages to somehow resist being annoying, even as she repeats a line for the 7th time. And Vera Farmiga (who you might remember from 'The Departed') is very well cast as Gyllenhaal's military guide, who just might be sympathetic to his plight.

The story itself is tidy and lean, and should keep you guessing throughout. And, as the final credits roll, PCMR was left with the enjoyable head-scratching moments that only a time-bending tale can deliver. (Triangle, Twelve Monkeys, Primer etc)

So, all in all, PCMR enjoyed this one, missed it in the cinema, but it's a quality DVD night in.

(Oh, and as a reward for making it to the end, here's that Louis CK link)


Family Film Reviews said...

I love to see comedic actors do a serious role. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Stranger Than Fiction are actually my favorites from those two actors. I admit I'm more of a comedic type, but the fact that they did them so well and so convincing I think made them my favorites.

PaddyC said...

I agree, I loved both of those movies.. but, do you think Jake Gyllenhaal is more of a comic actor? Surely not!

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