Friday, July 5, 2013

Source Code

Sorta spoilers....

In one of the documentaries accompanying the DVD of THE BLUES BROTHERS, director John Landis recalls a discussion with his co-screenwriter and lead actor Dan Aykroyd about the gravity defying "Bluesmobile", an old police car that manages some pretty amazing stunts before completely falling apart during the climax of the original 1980 film. In the sequel, another Bluesmobile remains drivable underwater, as if it were James Bond's famous Lotus. Aykroyd penned some technical explanations; Landis didn't care. "It's a magic car!" he cried.  For the director, that was the only explanation necessary.

It might be wise to adopt that attitude when viewing 2011's sci-fi-er SOURCE CODE. As with other films concerning time travel, the improbabilities mount by the second. I would've loved to have been present at the creative team's read through, when the ideas in the screenplay are tossed out, approved, and maybe even summarily dismissed as being implausible. Do they do that?  The imaginations of writer Ben Ripley and director Duncan Jones (MOON) run so freely and entertainingly that I suspect many fans won't mind. In SOURCE CODE, an Army helicopter pilot named Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself on a commuter train sitting across from a woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan). He's not sure why he's there. His last memory is of a mission in Afghanistan. The woman keeps calling him  "Sean."

Someone spills coffee on his shoe. A guy one row back makes smart comments. Before "Sean" knows it,  the train detonates, killing everyone aboard. But then a second later, Stevens seems to be in the cockpit of his old aircraft, severely damaged.  On a monitor is Captain Goodwin (Vera Formiga) explaining that he is indeed a soldier named Stevens, but now with a new directive: to catch a bomber bound via rail for downtown Chicago. Scientist Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) then appears and fills in the gaps: the train is part of his "source code" invention that is of an alternate timeline in which a subject is able to assume another's identity, usually to thwart a real world threat. 

Stevens learns of his last military mission overseas, and that he is believed dead. In fact, he's really alive, but on life support.  A perfect source code subject.  And he will find himself back on that Chicago train, reliving the same eight minutes over and over with the same passengers until he is able to at least identify the bomber. The woman keeps calling him by that different name, refers to their jobs as teachers. When Stevens passes a mirror, the reflection is not his. Are you reminded of at least 3 movies by now? GROUNDHOG DAY for one? I think Rod Serling would've approved of this film's plot, too.

SOURCE CODE takes its intriguing blueprint and has a good deal of fun with it. It is not a hard science fiction piece, but employs such ideas to support what boils down to a chase thriller, a race against time programmer with healthy doses of sentiment.  The film does indeed embrace emotion, as Stevens takes time for a budding romance with Christina and, even in the midst of a countdown, to make amends with his long estranged father over the phone. There are several ingenious moments throughout, allowing characters to use intelligence more often than brutality. The cast is appealing. Especially Gyllenhaal, whose character is a variation on a well worn premise - the deceased who gets another shot at making things right in the life he left behind.

The themes may not be as heady as those found in films like UPSTREAM COLOR or SOLARIS, but SOURCE CODE has both its head and heart in the right place.
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