Blu-ray Review: SOURCE CODE - Strong, Emotive & Engaging

The movie withstands repeated viewing (if anything it is more entertaining watching Colter on the train when you already know who the bomber is), and looks and sounds as good as it will outside of a cinema.

I have just read (sections of) various very well-written, intelligent scientific explanations and critiques of Duncan Jones€™sSource Code, and aside from hurting my delicate brain I am not sure they really help in my understanding of the movie as a movie. There are some, very reasonable, criticisms of some of the €˜pseudoscience€™ used or touched on, but since the genre is €˜science-fiction€™ (note the second noun) this is not something that bothers me; sci-fi takes scientific notions, then uses them €“ loosely €“ to examine character and philosophy. Sci-fi movies are not educational tools. So, the movie asks us to accept several concepts €“ right up until the last chapter €“ that we either go with or that lose us, and fortunately Jones is a skilful enough storyteller (working from a superior script from Ben Ripley) and filmmaker to make it hold together incredibly neatly as a piece of entertainment. The basic concept is simple enough: soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train. He has no idea how he got there. When he looks in the mirror, he is presented with an unfamiliar face. After 8 minutes of general confusion, the train blows up. He finds himself in a military complex, where he is being held in some kind of capsule. He is told that the train really did blow up, and he is to keep going back to that train €“ and to those 8 minutes €“ until he finds the bomber. His job is not to stop the bomb, as it has already blown up. Time travel? Simulation? Multiverse? That€™s enough plot; if I continued with the story it would take up the rest of this review. What is commendable, then, is that Jones finds a path through this maze and never loses focus; in the hands of, oh, say, Tony Scott, this movie might well have been completely preposterous. As it is, it is almost lucid, although of course someone gets a bundle of exposition that begins, by necessity, with an allegory (€˜You know when a lightbulb goes out, it leaves a trace? The human mind is kind of like that...€™). Jones€™s pacing is so good, though, that those moments don€™t clunk onto the screen the way they might have. The movie is structured, €œRashomon€-like, around the train-bombing. Ripley€™s script is able to keep the movie progressing in several directions while continually repeating the central event. Colter learns that he has taken over the consciousness, on the train, of one Sean Fentress (we continue to see him as Colter on the train even though the passengers don€™t, which ultimately means that Michelle Monaghan€™s character never finds out that she is snogging Jake Gyllenhaal). Key moments play out over and over, re-orienting the audience. As we see the repeated activities of the passengers around Colter, we start trying to put it together; it never lines up the suspects for us, encouraging the audience members to keep up and start figuring things out themselves. It is something of a test for a director to keep material that is repeated throughout a movie alive. Obviously Colter€™s journey is linear from his point of view, so we always have his subjective standpoint to keep it buzzing, but Jones also constantly reinvigorates the material visually. Explosions in movies are not rare, but here we see the same explosion several times, but never quite the same way twice. One scene involves someone jumping off the moving train, and its virtuoso single-shot approach underlines everything that is wrong with the Michael Bay school of CGI-action editing. The film is more exciting than the vast majority of summer action blockbusters, and was made for a fraction of the cost ($32m). Jones is cine-literate, and the movie seems to draw from such disparate sources as The Matrix, Groundhog Day and even Blow Up or The Conversation in its look-closer investigation. Comparisons have been drawn, unavoidably, with Chris Nolan€™s Inception, another intelligent, rollicking sci-fi rollercoaster, dipping into different levels of consciousness. While I prefer Inception, perhaps the best entertainment of the last few years, this movie shares with that one a trust in the audience to keep up, as well as action taking place simultaneously on different levels of €˜reality.€™ Another comparison between the two is strong supporting casts: as well as Monaghan, Gyllenhaal is joined by Vera Farmiga as a military employee and Jeffrey Wright, a fine character actor, as her boss. I don€™t think it€™s a perfect movie and, without giving anything away, am in two minds about the ending. The movie has a classic case of €˜oh it hasn€™t finished,€™ a condition that almost crippled Return of the King, and can also be found in movies as different as The Crying Game, I Am Legend, and the last Harry Potter movie. In those last two cases, it was definitely a case of one-scene-too-many. The ending of Source Code, on the other hand, gives me pause. It is supposed to; it shouldn€™t answer everything, and doesn€™t. A movie that ended earlier would have felt neater (and more melancholy), while this one both gives a happier ending and a more open-ended one. In life, there are no happy endings; there is only one ending, and it isn€™t happy. In a multiverse, the notion is even more arbitrary; a happy ending in one dimension may be twinned with a tragedy in another. Such questions of morality and philosophy are indeed broached, but several questions remain, not the least of which is, what the hell does Sean Fentress have to say about all this? FILM: On watching the movie a second time I found my brain involved more and my emotions less, which is probably how it ought to be. While not quite as impressive as his debut €œMoon,€ Jones is such a skilful and promising filmmaker that unanswered questions €“ which to some might make or break the movie €“ while present, are peripheral to a strong, emotive and engaging central story. FOUR STARS VISUALS: From the opening helicopter shots of Chicago (which looks uncannily like Gotham City), the movie is definitely worth getting in the hi-def format. The transfer is very clean; perhaps too clean and coldly digital for some, but it seemed to fit with the material. FOUR AND A HALF STARS AUDIO: A DTS-HD 5.1 mix that is perfect for the dramatic action moments (the explosions sound great); the music and sound design of the movie in general are very good and this transfer has them at their best. FOUR STARS EXTRAS: A good, informative commentary from Jones, Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Ben Ripley; a making-of split up, frustratingly, into piecemeal sections (everyone who wants to see it will just press Play All anyway, so why not a single making-of?); some interesting, academic insight into the science and pseudoscience behind the movie, and finally a €˜Picture in Picture€™ option that allows you to play the movie while the above-mentioned features play in boxes on the screen. Blu-Ray demonstrates how this is possible, but not why it is desired. THREE STARS PRESENTATION: A simple, fairly easy-to-navigate menu and standard packaging. Frustratingly, there are a couple of trailers, which you can skip, and (on the UK release at least) a couple of ads that you have to fast-forward through, lest you accidentally miss the brand name. THREE STARS OVERALL: The bonus features, while interesting, weren€™t quite as exciting as I had anticipated, but that aside this is definitely a Blu-Ray worth owning. The movie withstands repeated viewing (if anything it is more entertaining watching Colter on the train when you already know who the bomber is), and looks and sounds as good as it will outside of a cinema. FOUR STARS Source Code is available now on Blu-ray.
Contributor
Contributor

I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.

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