Par for the Source
Source Code US/France 2011
Directed by Duncan Jones
Playing at cinemas now.
Aaaaw! I really didn’t want to write this review... but it’s holding me up so I guess I’d better get on with it.
I really liked Duncan Jones’ first movie Moon which, although it had what I saw as weak points on my first viewing, was interesting enough for me to repeat-view (and I’ll watch it again at some point too)... the stark and lonely setting of the piece really got to me I think. So I was kinda expecting a lot more quirky and possibly a touch of bleak thrown in for Jones’ follow up movie Source Code... but I have to say I was left a lot less impressed with this one than a lot of other people I know... Oh, and for the record... before I carry on writing this thing... Can people please stop telling me I watch too many movies? What kind of qualification do you want me to have here people? If a move is obvious and telegraphs itself then don’t blame me for being as familiar with the language of cinema as the next person. It’s not my fault I can sometimes see the endings coming a mile off... it’s the weakness of the films themselves!
Okay... having got that out of my system... lets move swiftly on. First of all let me tell you what Source Code, to my mind, is and isn’t based on some things I’ve heard said about the movie by various film critics...
What Source Code is, is a more than competently directed, nice to look at, turn your brain off movie which, unfortunately doesn’t really throw up any challenges plot wise. I’ve heard negatives that it’s very weak in the “science” area of this particular science-fiction and, yeah, the premise is, in a way I guess... well... “out there”! But, that being said, it’s not the job of science-fiction to be totally within the realms of science... unless you want to argue that this movie is a fantasy movie... in which case I’d be willing to listen. What it is the job of most science fiction to do is to sell the silliness of the concept in a way that will allow the audience to suspend its disbelief and escape into the picture as an immersive experience... and I have to say that Source Code definitely lives up to that one. It’s main problem though... is that it’s such an old plot device they’re using here that it’s certainly not hard to suspend your disbelief and, frankly, in the way it telegraphs its basic premise/twist in an early scene, the audience is way ahead of the main protagonist as to what’s really going on here... well ahead of him. Probably by about a quarter of an hour into the movie you’ll have figured everything out and the only thing left to do is watch it... but this is where the writer and the director win through a little on this one in terms of owning up and, in this way it’s similar to Moon in that... no wait. I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Let me tell you what Source Code isn’t. It isn’t intelligent science-fiction which is one of the main comments I’ve heard in its support. Maybe in terms of the main palette of movies on offer in today's increasingly dumbed down movie market it may seem that way to some people... and hopefully the people who are bandying about this kind of statement are all bright young things who haven’t become aware of the lack of originality in most modern movies yet. Certainly, though, I reckon if you were to have released this movie 50 years earlier it may well have been a big hit (undoubtedly it would have received outright critical claim and would probably have found an audience) but I don’t think it would have been much perceived as being particularly intelligent in any way. I’m not complaining, by the way. I just saw Battle: Los Angeles the other day and absolutely loved that... anyone claiming that particular noise-fest is in any way intelligent would get run out of town on a rail, wouldn’t they?
Now then... back to the twist, which I will try very hard not to spoil for you here if you haven’t already seen this film. About halfway through Moon, the director’s first movie, the twist was revealed so the rest of the story could play out from a different viewpoint. Which is fine and, on reflection, is probably the best option for that movie. Problem is, the audience are such that they are conditioned to expect the big twist revelation about a quarter of an hour before the end of the movie these days... so revealing that twist that early only puts the audience in a frame of mind where they’re still trying to figure out what the real twist is... and when something even more revelatory with bells on isn’t forthcoming, the audience is probably going to feel deflated and disappointed.
And what we have with Source Code is pretty much the same thing. Duncan Jones and the writer Ben Ripley obviously feel that their little twist in the basic set up is pretty much really obvious, which it is, and so they come clean with what’s really going on about half way through the movie so they can carry on exploring the emotional fallout and resolution of that story without being accused of overplaying their hand so much... which is absolutely a good call and probably the best thing they could have done with a storyline which, frankly, feels like it’s almost certainly been an old The Twilight Zone episode (and for the record, I love the old The Twilight Zone TV show) but, of course, the audience is still left wondering what the real twist is gonna be. Because that’s too obvious a plot set-up isn’t it?
Well yeah, it is and I’m surprised that movie producers are still greenlighting these old fifties sci-fi short story plots... but there’s been a lot of that kind of source material being used in US mainstream cinema in the last few years so this is just another example of that kind of movie. The good news is, though, that the direction is pretty cool, the performances are all pitch perfect and the music is great. I was expecting/hoping for another Clint Mansell score, especially since his work with Jones on his previous movie was so good, but this time the composing duties went to a guy called Chris Bacon, who I’d not heard of... but I have to say that it’s a really great score. Perhaps a little reminiscent of John Powell’s score for Paycheck at times but that’s certainly no bad thing. Will be interesting to see what this composer turns his hand to in the future. Good job.
That the movie is just a little more unchallenging than I’d been led to believe, is my only real gripe... and consequently I’d probably not bother watching this one again. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go and see it. It’s definitely worth a watch and certainly, this director needs your financial support so he can go on to greater and greater things. This guy is clearly an interesting creative figure and I suspect we’re going to get a few interesting masterpieces from him as his career progresses. Let’s see what happens.