Splice : The right combination: Skillful direction elevates ‘Source Code’ above typical thriller
Almost as rare as a decent horror movie or war film is a taut, perfectly constructed thriller. Duncan Jones’ riveting ‘Source Code’ proves there’s truly nothing more enjoyable than a thriller that doesn’t rely on violence to engage its audience, but exercises its potential as a work of palpable suspense.
Jones, whose directorial debut, ‘Moon,’ was one of the most celebrated breakthroughs of 2009, is no one-hit wonder. His second feature, despite its disappointingly mushy ending, is as enrapturing as modern mainstream thrillers come.
Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has no idea why or how he arrived on a Chicago-bound train. He feverishly attempts to gain his bearings when, eight minutes later, the train is incinerated by an onboard bomb. Stevens is immediately transported to a cell-like room. The image of Capt. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) appears on a closed-circuit television. She informs him that he is inside the source code, an invention that allows one to enter into someone’s body in the final eight minutes of his or her life.
The train bound for Chicago was just the first of multiple, cataclysmic terrorist attacks, and Stevens has a few more chances to stop it and save millions of lives. With each trip back to the train, he becomes more intensely enamored with one of the fated passengers, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), the driving force in his attempts to thwart the terrorists. The soldier has a new, even more powerful motive as he inches closer and closer to solving the past.
A thriller that could best be described as ‘Groundhog Day’ meets ‘Mission: Impossible’ might not draw exceptionally high expectations. Perhaps that’s what makes the film so satisfying. It’s difficult to underestimate the quantity of action movies based on tired, worn or amazingly unoriginal premises, qualifying ‘Source Code’ as the rare high-concept thriller that delivers at every level. It easily could have devolved into a redundant pastiche of the average thriller nowadays,but Jones consistently finds ways to jolt the audience with a refreshing punch to the stomach. Each new train ride is littered with brilliant twists; the dense characterization defies action movie convention; and there is even a great deal of genuine emotion permeating the drama.
In keeping with the style of ‘Moon,’ set in just two locations and dependent on the charisma of its leading man, ‘Source Code’ is easily recognizable as a Jones film, even though he’s only made two. Jones has a great understanding of visual space and form, a vital skill lost on most filmmakers, and is adept at generating suspense with just a slight, barely detectable underlying threat. He does not ask for much from his audience as he did in the more demanding ‘Moon,’ but the thrills of ‘Source Code’ are no less rewarding.
Just as Sam Rockwell had been tasked with carrying ‘Moon’ entirely by himself, Gyllenhaal was expected to go above and beyond in retaining the audience’s fascination. Alternately frightened, frustrated, terrified, sensitive and funny, the very talented young actor offers arguably his finest performance in over five years. Such meaty roles are very rare in action movies, but this is not a great performance simply by virtue of having great material to build off of. Gyllenhaal has demonstrated his versatility again and again in masterpieces such as ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Zodiac,’ as well as in extremely challenging roles in ‘Jarhead’ and ‘Donnie Darko.’ ‘Source Code’ is just an action movie, which makes the quality of his turn all the more impressive.
Were it not for an uncharacteristically sappy ending,which looks like it was drawn up by the head of the studio and not by Jones or the talented screenwriter, Ben Ripley, ‘Source Code’ might have been perfect. That Hollywood trapping can easily be written off, however, when one considers what Jones was able to accomplish within the strict confines of the mainstream thriller genre, boasting a swagger to shame the Joel Schumachers and Michael Bays of this world.
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