Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden
Written by Ben Ripley
For all of its accolades and its (predominately international) box office success, one would think that Source Code was a better movie than it is. Getting an aggregate 86% on Rotten Tomatoes is incredibly misleading, because the Duncan Jones film contains one of the worst performances by one of today’s best actors, another poor performance by an Oscar nominated actress and average performances by the two leads. Add to this a Groundhog Day premise that has almost no sense of drama that would occur from having any sort of real timeline, ridiculous plot holes and lazy exposition and you have what should rightly be seen as a underachieving version of what is a decent idea.
The idea, that through a vortex of some kind would allow a third-party to inhabit the life of someone during their last 8 minutes. The purpose to this is not to undo the past. Rather, they are to act as an investigator and figure certain facts about that time period to prevent a future event. This is a stretch on its own, but if it were half way decently explained, it might amount to some amount of fun. Instead, what we get is a chore to experience, for myriad reasons.
First, the acting of Jeffrey Wright. After having put forth some of the best supporting performances of the last 12 years, including Shaft, Syriana and the two most recent James Bond films, Wright has been seen as nothing short of a sure thing. Until now. His Dr. Rutlege is an awefully short-sighted idiot for a genius. His character, as drawn, must make all the wrong choices and take all the credit. Within this framework, one would figure that he’d be given a fair amount of nuance to work with, especially with someone as capable as Wright. For whatever reason, this did not happen. In fact, I would say that Wright made the character even more two-dimensional than he already was. In the end, he came off more like The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island than anything close to Alan Rickman territory.
Another poor performance is given by Farmiga, whose Captain Goodwin plays someone “just following orders” who, moved by the story of Colter Stevens, makes a long, steady decline into emotional frailty. It would be one thing, if narrowed to maybe one scene that leaves us wondering what she might do. Instead, we see long, steady looks of obvious emotional dissonance that makes it obvious that the actor Farmiga never went through training camp.
It is not obvious who is responsible for these two subpar acting performances. Farmiga and Wright are definitely capable of better than this. The characters seem more like sketches than real people, so I guess I would say it was up to Director Jones to either coax or at the very least allow the actors to fill in the gaps. The rest of Jones’ efforts are by the numbers at best. Absent is the empty spaces that he allowed his actors (Rockwell and Spacey) fill in the effective Moon. Granted, one does not find much in the way of free time in a story where major explosions are scheduled to occur roughly every 8 minutes. Still, with an actor that was able to make so much out of silence in Donnie Darko, you think he’d give ambiguity a chance.
As for Gyllenhaal, he’d be wise to start searching for stronger characters. He lacks the charisma to stand out in effects films, and what better way than to put him in a role that has him moving into someone else’s body and his travelling partner barely notices a difference. His career has spiraled back and forth between brainless blockbusters and indistinguishable dramas since his excellent performance in 2007’s classic Zodiac and decent Rendition. He is at his best when he deals with the deeper stuff. This ain’t deep enough.
What to say about Michelle Monaghan? She’s often one of the good things about her films, but rarely the person that you remember. For some reason, I keep thinking she played opposite Will Smith in I Robot, before she got dumped by Tom Brady.
The best performance in the film is Arden’s creepy Derek Frost. All of his scenes were effective and makes one wish that he might have had a bit more screen time. That they did not give it to him is one of the Jones’ best decisions, as it left him more effective. Problem is, he filled it with a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t that great.
It could have been a good film, with the bare bones plot that it has, if some better plot elements had been introduced or if they had altogether left out any sort of explanation what the Source Code of the title really was. The makers of Source Code either did not know, or did not want to flesh out the details of their plot. My guess is a combination of limited inspiration along with a lack of confidence in the viewer to piece things together. This is what makes the film pale in comparison to a far superior film, like Inception, where Nolan had thought out every detail and included most of them. The details he left out, however, were done so for purposes of giving the story an ambiguity that makes it classic and universal.
This movie is decent enough, if you expect nothing out of your films but noise and a happy ending.
(* out of *****)