Monday, 4 July 2011

Source Code (Jones, 2011)

A particularly bizarre kind of time travel. A confusing plot involving the protagonist having the potential to save lots of lives. Questions of how much of what is happening is actually impacting on real life and how much is purely in his head. And Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role.

I could quite easily be talking about two different films, separated by a decade and the emergence of a new great sci-fi director.

In 2001 ‘Donnie Darko’ brought Gyllenhaal to filmgoers attention as a boy who has conversations with a creepy giant rabbit, has to deal with wormholes and loops in time and space and who gets distracted along the way by a pretty girl. It failed to break even at the cinemas, but DVD has allowed the film to be recognised for what it is, a piece of fantastic thinking sci-fi.

10 years down the line he is one of the biggest actors in the world, starring in big budget blockbusters and more low key character pieces. His face is instantly recognisable but what is impressive is that he’s managed to forge a career for himself involving exactly the kind of mixture of fun and serious roles that you imagine most actors would love to achieve; there’s a world of difference between his performances in ‘Prince of Persia’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’, or between ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ and ‘Love and Other Drugs’.

This year he starred in ‘Source Code’, a sci-fi thriller set in the modern day, where he plays a US army soldier called Colter Stevens, who is tasked with reliving the last 8 minutes of a man’s life, to try and work out who planted a bomb on a train which exploded earlier in the day. It’s a great concept, like a cross between ‘24’ and ‘Groundhog Day’, which let’s face it, could only ever be both awesome and confusing.

Gyllenhaal is fantastic as a man thrown into another’s body, without any of the fun hijinks of a ‘Freaky Friday’-esque movie. Torn between doing his job and becoming attached to the people in the world of the source code he captures that confusion with all the skill and subtlety we’ve come to expect from one of this generation’s great actors.

Crucial to his performance is the quality of his two supporting ladies; Vera Farmiga is superb as Colter’s contact in the outside world, the woman who gives him his instructions and tries her hardest to allow him to understand what can and cannot be changed in the world, but it is Michelle Monaghan who pulls off the better performance. She’s tasked as playing a woman, who is already dead, but has to be so loveable that a trained military man would fall in love with her within only a couple of 8 minute time slots, fall for her so completely that years of obeying orders and following military codes would begin to seem insignificant; quite a challenge really. But it’s one that she pulls off, managing to become more and more attractive as the film goes on, to the point that you are willing him to succeed as much for her sake as his. I’ve never seen her in a lead role before but I am definitely impressed. She manages to convey an impressive range of character with only a fairly limited, and at times inherently repetitive, script to work with, creating a genuine chemistry with Gyllenhaal’s character, despite there being some ambiguity over who it is she actually fancies, Colter or the man whose body he has inhabited.

Just as with Jake’s breakout performance in ‘Donnie Darko’ where he relied on the guidance and vision of Richard Kelly, he owes a great deal of the quality of this performance to the work of director Duncan Jones, the man who brought us the best science fiction film of 2009, if not the noughties as a whole, ‘Moon’. Jones is really beginning to step out of the Ziggy shaped shadow his father has cast and if he can keep producing films of this standard, I think people will look back at his work with a lot of respect years from now. He has a clear understanding that the best science fiction can’t just rely on a strong concept, but has to be well scripted and really make the audience think. His films are exciting and intelligent; a combination all too rarely on display in Hollywood films these days and one which I hope he continues to employ throughout his career, because I genuinely believe he could come to be listed amongst the great directors of all time.

In the end though this is Jake Gyllenhaal’s movie; it is his intensity that keeps the audience hooked, his charisma that makes the character believable and his name which guaranteed audience turnout. He’s come a long way from talking to a really weird rabbit about the end of the world.

Today's song was one I stumbled across during my fairly regular sessions trying to find new music on Youtube and listening to random covers. The girl singing is called Kate McGill and i reckon she deserves to be big, check out her Youtube channel and give her original songs a listen first, but also check out the sheer range of artists she's not just covered, but done damn good justice to. Anyone who knows me will know i'm really quite fond of Mumford and Sons, so to post a cover of one of their songs, perhaps my favourite one, should suggest i think quite a lot of this singer.

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