REVIEW: Absurd Source Code Repeats Its Mistakes, Eight Minutes at a Time

Movieline Score: 4

Duncan Jones has skills; he's an architect of emotional dislocation. The filmmaker reenters that purview where he left it -- in 2009's Moon -- for his new thriller, Source Code. It works for a while: The sci-fi action film has as chilling an introduction as you'll see this year. Jones' talents even tie in with the film's premise: Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself in another man's body, and has to continually relive the same eight minutes before a bomb detonates on a Chicago-bound train until he can figure out how to stop it. It's horror on a loop -- laboring to sift through where and who you are while trying to piece together a mystery with a running clock.

Moon was a philosophical, low-budget sci-fi tale about coming to terms with oneself while being exploited by an institution, a model of understatement that Jones piloted. Code adds those themes to an action-film frame: Working with editor Paul Hirsch (who cut some of Brian De Palma's finest suspense scenes in films like Obsession and Blow Out, which also addressed doggedly retracing one's steps), Jones compacts a movie's worth of fury, frustration and fear into the first five minutes. Yet while his ardor for bringing the shards of a disordered mind to the screen is nourishing at first, but then "Code" starts laying down its cards so dutifully that it disintegrates.

Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley understand that it's necessary to keep the film constantly exploding out of the starting blocks, because once Code settles into explaining why Colter is trapped in a video-game version of Santayana -- those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it -- the real work from the cast comes from the effort of keeping a straight face during the silly exposition. Saddled with CG effects that will only be passable on your smart phone, or from the back seat of a minivan, it's as if the looniness of the Code plot is out to undermine the highly wound, tightly cut beginning -- the camera shakes from too much adrenaline.

Most of the expository duty falls to Vera Farmiga, sitting on the verge of a heavy sigh in a military command center. She fills Colter in on his job -- find the terrorist bomber, save the world -- and does so unquestioningly, without mouthing the "Yada, yada, yada..." refrain undoubtedly going through the minds of restless viewers watching the same eight minutes played out again and again. Michelle Monaghan provides the other side of the feminine respective, a sort of love interest who doesn't understand why Colter doesn't seem to know her; she's the girlfriend of the guy whose body Colter has been shoved into. And, unlike Farmiga -- who at least knows the point of her job feeding the hapless solider pieces of info -- Monaghan is the irritated, and irritating, audience surrogate: a position that Gyllenhaal already serves. Ultimately, playing such a piece of machinery deemphasizes her likable, real-woman vividness.

Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, with his border-collie zeal, is just the guy to keep bouncing back after being blown up in a succession of "what-if" situations. But because of the repetitive nature of his quest -- he's forever being blown into bubbles, reliving the same brief period until he can figure out how to stop the bomb -- it's like he's on a mission find the final digits of Pi. It's up to Jeffrey Wright, as the administrator supervising the Source Code -- the machine that keeps firing Colter back, back, back to the recent past -- and his eccentric brio to keep the silliness from piling up like ash from his pipe. That's how you know this film is science fiction -- someone is smoking indoors in the United States -- and that Wright is a martinet whose malevolence must be checked.

Source Code finally concludes neatly and dully. Jones' instincts and Gyllenhaal's enthusiasm aren't enough to make it a feature; somewhere under all that bloat is the greatest short subject of all time. And if Jones' first two films prove anything, it's that he might be one of those filmmakers who can do more with fewer resources than with the cash supply to blow up a passenger train an attention-defeating number of times. At some point, Jones and his Source Code team convinced themselves that the gift wrap is more worthwhile than the gift itself. They ain't wrong.


  • Tommy Marx says:

    I was sorry to read this. I wanted this to be good. :-(

  • Alex says:

    Don't let this put you off. Its got 93% on RT and Movieline always hate on the mainstream. No way this film is a 4

  • SD says:

    Me too. I have said many times how much I liked the script and if they have messed it up it will be a real shame.

  • Pete says:

    Amusing tweet from the director regarding this review:
    Find it odd Movieline choose to complain about Jeffrey Wright smoking a pipe, something in an old draft of the script thats not in the film.!/ManMadeMoon/status/53585077480853504
    Does make one wonder if the reviewer watched the film or read an early leaked script.

  • Tommy Marx says:

    Thanks! I just checked RT. I'm gonna see this on Saturday. If it's horrible, oh well, but the high scores on RT make me optimistic.

  • Mike says:

    That's actually pretty disturbing, especially as this is Elvis Mitchell and not some random blogger. Even if he did sit through the film, it's proof that he was hardly paying attention.
    Right now I'm picturing him falling asleep during the movie, then going home and digging up an old script online to see what he missed.

  • Kim Miranda says:

    I love Elvis Mitchell's reviews!

  • Hey, guys! Great review. I can’t wait to see the movie too. The trailer looks cool. By the way, it’s a really cool blog…
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  • James Hunter says:

    Bahahaha. Review is fake, they never saw the movie. There was no dude with a pipe in it at all. This site is a sham.

  • Leonard Moses II says:

    I think you saw a different movie. I'll see his next film and I don't and won't be going to see many movies in the theater because Netflix keeps me happy. I also don't care to wait the month to see something on Netflix and most everyone else doesn't care to either.

  • Stephen says:

    To be honest, this reviewer inexplicably getting the pipe detail wrong was kind of like Armond White describing Hamm as being a villian in his review of Toy Story 3. Makes you wonder "Were you paying attention at all?" and completely detracts from their argument.

  • Mark says:

    Don't fret Tommy, As a huge fan of "Moon", I also tried to not read any reviews, then a friend let the cat out of the bag and said that "I heard that it is bad....". I went and saw it, loved it. There is always an agenda with movie reviewers, just judge it for yourself.

  • Stu says:

    To add to the pipe thing: this review says that Michelle Monaghan is Gylenhaal's character's girlfriend- which is also wrong. Makes the review/reviewer look questionable to say the least...

  • justjeff says:

    Yo yo, the reviewer got it wrong from 1st paragraph; sure Gylenhaal's character was-- in his own mind-- trying to stop the train bomb from expoding.
    Yet that wasn't the job that Glyenhaal's character was given. Actually the original mission given was to find who the bomber was-- in order to stop future mass-murders.
    Again, the people in charge of sending Gleynhaal's character to find the identity of that bomber knew the train had already been blown up. They were just trying to stop the next attack before THAT was too late.
    In other words, in the premise given to the movie audience, this was basically a re-living of the last eight minutes of someone's life: someone who was already dead.
    So Elvis Mitchell never saw the film, but as a good writer he was able to read other reviews, sources, etc., and attempt his own talented wit-- huh?

  • FrankDHp says:

    Sorry no offense, but this is such a bullshit review imo.
    The person reviewing this has no idea what he's talking about and is better of working in laundry industry.
    I'm guessing he would praises movies that are considered one of the worse.

  • FrankDHp says:

    Don't depend on reviews too much.
    It actually scored pretty high on other reviews and i thought it was one of the most exciting ones i'v seen for a loong time and i am pretty skeptical.
    The review is a joke, he should be embarresed with himself.

  • Shaun says:

    I was kind of wary about this movie from the reviews of it, but I am glad I decided to watch it anyway. I've never been a big Jake Gyllenhaal fan, but he did a great job in this movie from the beginning confusion to the odd ending. Which was the part that I didn't understand, if it didn't happen how could it have happened? I don't remember anyone smoking a pipe though but maybe I missed it when I was scratching my head. But if they want to make it look like he survived in another man's body then who are we to fight with them? At least I got some use out of my blockbuster movie pass other then just streaming movies but for $10 a month I can rent a couple few and still feel I got my money out of it. Just like the film makers got there value out of that 8 minutes of film. I think after I get off work from DISH I will watch it again before I send it back, maybe the third time is the charm in figuring it out, but I gave the movie 7/10 just because I was scratching my head.

  • Robbie says:

    Very sad review. You've set upon a destructive path from the start. Even if this movie did have some flaws, as all movies do, even to an 'honest' critic, it would never be that bad. Its painfully obvious you have something against this film, perhaps you just don't like Jake for some reason. I've put this movie in my top 50 list of all time movies.

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