Quantum Droid: Source Code (2011)
Since I have a sincere love for anything that relates to time travel (thanks to seeing Back to the Future as a youngster, which is of course the greatest movie of all time!), I hereby introduce a new review series, Quantum Droid. There’s a heck of a lot of material for this series, and I will look in on it every now and then as a break from the usual series I’ve got going. The inaugural entry for this series is the newly released ‘Source Code’. Enjoy.
Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top secret project, known as ‘Quantum Leap’. Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Doctor Beckett, prematurely stepped into the Project Accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own. Fortunately, contact with his own time was made through brainwave transmissions, with Al, the Project Observer, who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Doctor Beckett could see and hear. Trapped in the past, Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right, that once went wrong and hoping each time, that his next leap will be the leap home.
Hang on a second… I’m reviewing ‘Source Code’… My mistake.
Theorizing that one could be inserted into the consciousness of a dead man for eight minutes, Doctor Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) led an elite group of military scientists to develop a top secret project, known as ‘Source Code’. Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Doctor Rutledge employed Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a helicopter pilot and Iraq war hero, to step into the shoes of Sean Fentress, a victim of a terrorist act that killed all passengers on a Chicago train that morning. He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own. Fortunately, contact with his own time was made through brainwave transmissions, with Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), the Project Observer, who appeared on a computer monitor that only Captain Stevens could see and hear. Trapped in the test chamber, Captain Stevens found himself repeatedly leaping to the same point in time, with the mission to put things right that once went wrong, to find the bomber and thwart another imminent large scale terrorist act, and hoping each time, that his next leap will be the leap home.
Am I crazy or are there some similarities there?
Okay, so I think I’ve got that out of my system. ‘Source Code’ takes the premise of ‘Quantum Leap’, and combines it with ‘White Tulip’, a season two episode of Fringe that starred Peter Weller as a scientist repeatedly travelling back to the same point in time in an attempt to prevent the death of his fiancée. The difference in ‘Source Code’ is that the events of the past cannot be altered (or can they?). Captain Stevens is sent back to spend these eight minutes with the single purpose of locating the bomb and identifying the terrorist in order to prevent the next attack. Along the way he manages to meet and fall for Christina (Michelle Monaghan), learn the truth about his involvement in the project, and make peace with his father (in a cute nod to the films all too obvious inspiration, Stevens father is voiced by Scott Bakula).
After his impressive debut film ‘Moon’,
David Bowie’s kid Duncan Jones was one to look out for. What he shows with ‘Source Code’ is a more traditional (and welcome) directorial style. More intent on building a scene and keeping the pacing tight and effective, Jones thankfully doesn’t resort to shaky cam or hyper-editing to paper over the cracks of a thin premise. His style reminded me on numerous occasions of The Fugitive’s Andrew Davis. This is a good thing. The screenplay by Ben Ripley on the other hand, I take huge issue with. To put aside previously mentioned similarity to ‘Quantum Leap’, the screenplay never satisfactorily convinces on its central premise. There’s a bit of pseudo science talk (more like mumbled by Jeffrey Wright), but you do have to meet the film more than halfway if you’re going to buy into it. The other problem I had with the screenplay I unfortunately can’t talk about, because to do so would amount to be a huge spoiler. Which is a shame (for me) because it’s a doozy and it borders on film ruining. To get the happy ending that filmmakers think that audiences demand, ‘Source Code’ hasn’t really played fair and expects us not the consider the ramifications of the ending. That the film just barely survives it shows just how forgiving I am towards time travel type movies. Okay, I’ve changed my mind, I’m going to talk about it. But I’ll invisitext it at the end of the review.
The films performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Jake Gyllenhaal makes a sympathetic hero, as lost as we are as to the true nature of his whereabouts and his involvement in the project. I have to say that after waking in the train at the beginning of the film, Stevens takes the initial revelation that his reflection isn’t his own pretty damn well though. I’d be a little bit freaked out to be quite honest. He also handles the action elements of the role, as well as the emotional. Michelle Monaghan has a natural screen presence, and has perfected the “obtainable” love interest. To clarify, she’s pretty in an obtainable way, and has that matey personality that makes the audience sympathise with her almost immediately. This is essential to the characters success, as she has to repeat the same scenes and dialogue over and over again with only minor variations. Monaghan does just about as well as anyone could with the character. The relationship between these two make the movie work a lot better than it would have otherwise.
On the acting down side, I’m yet to see the appeal of Vera Farmiga. The only thing I remember from any of her performances are a quiet earnestness. That’s a kind way for me to say she’s a bit boring. And while it’s not a bad performance per se, it’s just kind of… there. Admittedly the ‘Source Code’ screenplay, hasn’t given her much to work with. While Farmiga’s performance was a little on the average side, it’s award worthy when compared to Jeffrey Wright’s, who is an actor I usually like. Armed with one of those reliable acting props, the crutch (meant to immediately make a one dimensional character more interesting), Wright mumbles and twitches his way through the film without ever developing the character in any interesting way. The thinly drawn character needed someone a little more passionate, a little more energetic. To venture back to the previously mentioned Fringe episode, Peter Weller would’ve made a more interesting choice.
At its core, ‘Source Code’ is an entertaining crowd pleaser that doesn’t hold together upon close examination. It has moments of inspiration, such as the revelation behind Colter’s involvement in the project, and the films pacing and direction are spot on. To this Duncan Jones can be credited. It also features two nice performances by Gyllenhaal and Monaghan. But there the praise ends. ‘Source Code’s rules are vaguely defined, and although the central premise is a strong one, they aren’t explored in and interesting way. Limitations are placed on the story by the eight minute deadline (creating tension is the only reason I can think of as to why it’s eight minutes) makes the film fall a far short of it’s potential. For this and the spoiler reasons below, I give ‘Source Code’ two helpful holograms out of a possible four.
The second sticking point I have with ‘Source Code’ is again, the end. Poor fucking Sean Fentriss. What about him? Sure, Colter. Walk off into the sunset as Sean. Get a second chance. Get to bang Christina. Get to fucking live a long life. What about that poor schmuck who’s body you’ve stolen? Didn’t you stop to consider him? You’ve saved a train load of people, but stolen someone elses body while you’re at it. And you’re going to have a reminder every time you look in the mirror. On top of that, your real body is still in the source code project! So when another terrorist act occurs, we’re going to have yet another fucking Colter Stevens running around in someone elses body. How is that fair? Really, the film could’ve found a legitimate way to end with Colter saving the train, and him getting to speak to his father one last time, and then being put out of his misery by Goodwin. It’s not as upbeat an ending as walking through Chicago arm in arm with Christina, but at least it doesn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth. Really, what a selfish bastard. “I want you to have the decency to let me try.” I want you to have the decency to let the poor bastard who’s body you’re inhabiting to have his fucking body back!