Try Saving the World, Then Try Again (And Again)
By Yilin Andre Wang
The story of “Source Code” emerges from a simple premise: an army pilot (Jake Gyllenhaal) on a mysterious mission to save downtown Chicago from a major bombing enters the last memory of a victim in the early small-scale train explosion in order to find the bomber. Given only eight minutes for each entry by a system named “Source Code,” he races against the clock in memory replay , all the while unveiling the tragic reality about himself.

Crisply directed, “Source Code” is an enjoyable thriller. None of the key elements — memory wrap, headstrong bravado, government agendas, the parallel universe, flawed information networks or unresolved father-and-son conflict —are novel inventions; even the main sellin point of reliving a harvested memory, is instantly reminiscent of the poor weatherman who has to repeat his lines to get it right in “Groundhog Day.” Yet Jones’ direction enables a natural, genuine transition that yields a film with a pleasant flow. With his critically-acclaimed debut “Moon,” a sci-fi film released in 2009 about a man who discovers his existence in jeopardy before ending his three-year stint mining on the farther side of the moon, Duncan Jones established himself as a promising director who probes his lens into the human soul with an intellectual depth that resounds with that of his father, David Bowie. “Source Code” reuses the formula of “Moon”—both films share the pathos of technological advance, constrained male protagonists in personal crises, the questioning of identities and responsibilities, clean cinematography and warmly-touched story arcs in stark realities. Targeting a mass audience with Jake Gyllenhaal and critic favorites Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright ’87, “Source Code” undoubtedly has a more uplifting tone than Jones’ previous melancholic outer-space drama.

Having starred in several genre films in recent years, Jake Gyllenhaal adequately renders the struggle, fright, guilt, determination, recklessness and of course, playfully romantic instincts of an American hero. Smooth, if not irresistible, his portrayal fills the frames with decent richness and intensity. Academy Award nominee Vera Farmiga (“Up In The Air,” “The Departed”) owns a remarkably vivid character as Captain Goodwin, who unlike your stereotypically cold, resourceful commander (think Dame Judi Dench’s M in the James Bond franchise) possesses a more human side. We see her hesitate, pause, turn around in doubt, even at times seem flustered. Yet apart from Gyllenhaal and Farmiga towards the end, the film does not give other actors much space or range. Such is true of our own Mr. Wright, who I wish could deliver a performance more condensed as a rasping scientist. This is hardly unexpected: as the poster clearly indicates, Gyllenhaal is the sole leading man here.

Overall, the film holds together well. This is not a film that attempts to ponder philosophical conundrums following in the steps of “The Matrix” series or “Ghost in the Shell,” or acridly comment on modern sociopolitical issues such as “V For Vendetta” or “District 9.” It aims simply to present a conceivable, thought-provoking story. Had the film been incubated in more ambition, it might either lose the commercial market or devolve into a watered-down no-brainer. If there is anything wrong with such balance, it might be the fact that “Source Code” can’t gnaw your mind with any single scene. Chances are, you will go in Cinemark, enjoy a thrilling hour and a half, discuss the half-messy-half-surprising finish (that is, if you are not too familiar with the increasingly wispy smarts of science fiction nowadays) with your friends for five minutes, then head off to whatever comes next without worrying about being too absorbed in the plot. This is great entertainment, a work that successfully takes care of most details, an aptly-measured film with generally sophisticated and occasionally mind-teasing storytelling. Given the unimaginative return of thrillers this year, “Source Code” might be the wise take.

Issue 22, Submitted 2011-04-13 21:45:47