For the past few months I have been filling the void of quality cinema entertainment with the only show that constantly surprises me with its ingenuity and surprises, and that's Fringe. It really proves on a week to week basis what fully realized and original science fiction has the potential to do. It can impact you and affect you in ways you never expected going in. Heading into Inception, few had any real idea how the dream heist was going to play out, so the surprise of multiple dreams coexisting within each other amplified the experience so completely. Perhaps a stronger example was with District 9, a film about the condition of alien lifeforms in the slums of Johannesburg that brought in an unassuming character that proved just as fascinating as aliens. Source Code builds on a similar sort of shock, keeping it close to the heart and close to the chest.
The premise, as you know it from the trailers, focuses on Captain Colter Stevens, a decorated airman for the U.S. army who finds himself in the body of a man who died in an explosion on a commuter train that morning. Stevens is essentially living through a computer program called the Source Code, designed to send people into the consciousness of somebody else in the last eight minutes of their lives. Over the course of the film Stevens has to figure out where the bomb on the train is, and who planted it there in the first place, not in order to stop the event from happening at all, but to stop the next explosion from happening. It is made clear that he can't change his reality from inside the Source Code, but unexpected events cause Stevens to question everything.
I'm not about to spoil away the twist that takes this film from moderate science fiction status and sends it rollicking towards a solid place somewhere on my "Best of 2011" list. It's something worth experiencing for yourself, and even if it's for no other reason, I suggest you see Source Code. It starts mining the well that's been garnering so much praise in the entertainment world recently, and I'm speaking of the alternate reality theory. This film takes a more intimate approach towards this idea of what constitutes reality, and even more importantly about the choices that we make influencing the future.
The intense plot that puts these concepts into motion may come second, but it is ultimately effective. You don't think about the potential loopholes in the logic of the Source Code, because that aspect has been very clearly and thoroughly worked out. You may find yourself questioning one or two small hiccups, but it remains one of the most logically correct depictions of this sort of storyline in a while. If there is an essential problem with this film, it lies somewhere in the screenplay by Ben Ripley. There are portions of the film that edge on corniness that you will be able to notice. There was one or two moments that garnered a bit of an unintentional chuckle from some audience members, but it didn't head towards stupidity. The script isn't truly broken, but it seems to be somewhere between a rough draft and fully realize screenplay. It could've been something even greater, but it's not dissatisfying. You are more than appreciative of what you've been given.
The acting on the film is mostly spectacular, with Jake Gyllenhaal offering the most powerful emotional turn of his since Brokeback Mountain. Vera Farmiga is a close second as Colter Stevens' closest ally in the real world, Captain Carol Goodwin. Jeffrey Wright deliciously plays the pragmatist who is not necessarily a bad person, but has a point of view that focuses completely on the now. The only one I'm noticeably disappointed with is Michelle Monaghan as Christina, who Stevens ends up falling in love with. I bought the romance, but she just felts somewhat unfinished to me. The musical score by Chris P. Bacon, and that is seriously his name, isn't at the same level as Clint Mansell, but he's adequate at best. Duncan Jones, who directed the great sci-fi opus Moon in 2009, proves himself as an artist in his own right, delicately handling what could've been a meaningless plot. The film takes a while to catch up with its own story, but when it gets there it proves to be something even greater. Source Code is aggressively thought provoking, and if it doesn't come together as a perfect film, it's at least better than anything else you've seen this year. It's not some mere confection, but a fully fledged feature film, in case you've forgotten what that feels like.