Monday, April 4, 2011

Time After Time After Time After...

I was reading on Friday that Source Code was the best reviewed studio film of 2011. I could just say, "What those other people said is true," and that would be sufficient but that's not why they pay me the big bucks. I've been lousy lately at predicting the quality of movies. Last week, I thought Sucker Punch was going to be great and ended up hating it. This week, I thought the trailer for Source Code looked dumb. In the trailer, it looks like the government sends a man back in time to find out who was behind the terrorist attack of a train. As important as it would be to find out who was behind a mass murder, I couldn't believe that the government would use something as risky as time travel to try and solve it and I feared that this doubt would nag at the back of my brain throughout the film. Luckily, that's not what happened.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, an Air Force Captain who has no idea how he got from his unit in Afghanistan to what appears to be the space capsule he is in now. Even more baffling is the fact that he is suddenly teleported from that capsule into the body of another man on a Chicago commuter train that blows up eight minutes after he arrives, sending him back to his own body on the capsule. There are two people who keep talking to him when he's in the capsule. One is a fellow Air Force officer named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and the other is a civilian named Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). Neither one is particularly helpful in answering the numerous questions that Stevens has about his situation. They just keep coldly insisting that he complete his mission without telling him how he could be going back in time.

Eventually, they tell him that he's not really going back in time. Instead, he's entering a virtual reality that is constructed from the memories of a man who died on the train. They were able to preserve this man's last eight minutes of memories and combine them with all the records they have of the incident to create a highly detailed interactive computer model called the Source Code. The problem is that this is a highly detailed model so thorough in scope that no one really has any control over what happens inside it. The people in it think they are real, independent beings and that includes a woman named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). She's a friend of the man Colter in inhabiting and it's obvious that she wishes they were more than friends and, after several trips through the same eight minutes, that comes to be what Colter wants to. It's just a shame she's not real and that the real woman is already dead. Or is she?

If you've ever read anything I've written here, you know that my favorite type of movie is also the rarest type of movie, that being intelligent, serious science fiction. Science fiction movies are usually made by people who absolutely loathe science fiction and are only doing it so they can have a hit film and never have to do it again. Because they hate it, they figure everyone else does too and that means the story doesn't have to make sense as long as the CGI looks good so you have a movie populated by idiots in unbelievable situations doing mind bogglingly stupid things while running around past big monsters trying to, let's say, invade Los Angeles. Source Code doesn't have this problem. Source Code was lucky enough to be directed by Duncan Jones, director of the wonderful 2009 film Moon. Jones seems to actually like the medium in which he's working and he doesn't seem to think that having a movie be entertaining and make sense are mutually exclusive concepts and ends up giving us something that could have been written by Philip K. Dick. In fact, I checked afterward to see if this was yet another adaptation of Dick's work but, according to IMDB, it's an original story whose sole screenwriting credit goes to Ben Ripley, a fellow whose previous screenwriting credit was Species IV: The Awakening. Hmm, that sounds familiar. This adds to my theory that, if a movie sucks, the last person you should blame is the writer. It may be his fault but you should eliminate all the other suspects first.

Source Code is an excellent palate cleanser for, well, pretty much every movie that's come out so far this year. It did, of course, come in second to a cartoon rabbit that shits jelly beans but at least it was in the running and I guess we have to take what we can get.

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