Jake Gyllenhaal movie of the week…

Friday March 18th 2011

First off, if you’ve somehow managed to avoid the trailers, TV spots and plot synopses for Source Code, I highly recommend that you also skip this review and watch the film sight unseen. I can only imagine how mental-awesome that would be.

Moon director Duncan Jones is back in full effect this week with his big screen adaptation of the twelfth option on the Safari ‘View’ menu, Source Code. If you made it past the precautionary paragraph above, you’ll be familiar with the film’s basic premise, in which a soldier (sexy Jake Gyllenhaal from the films) is forced to re-live the same eight minutes over and over again until he can solve a terror plot.

While Groundhog Day comparisons are obviously justified, structurally and tonally it’s more of a Final Destination-y affair. That is if your Final Destination DVD got a bit scratched and kept replaying the first eight minutes. And if you think that sounds slightly boring and repetitive, THINK AGAIN BUDDY! Source Code is one of the most solidly exciting action movies I’ve seen in ‘a while’, and even though it inevitably tails off after an opening half hour that makes Crank look positively lethargic, it never loses sight of its best qualities.

Obviously, the film is technologically outlandish, but D-Jones is wise to ensure that the characters themselves react plausibly to potentially audience-alienating scenarios. Gyllenhaal holds your attention throughout like it aint no thang and his progression from confused victim to valiant hero is well measured and believable.

But let’s be fair: the best thing about Source Code has nothing to do with casting:

Shooting mega wide (as I like to call it) has become such a default for action movies that it’s even started infecting genres that have absolutely no place occupying such a massive frame. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure Inside Job‘s 2.39:1 presentation really made all that much difference when it was used purely to show a succession of middle aged men sitting behind desks. Source Code sensibly recognises that it’s not a set-piece-kind-of-movie, dropping the big CGI numbers and instead focusing on characters, details and tension building – at which it’s ludicrously adept.

A slightly disappointing conclusion and a godawful turn by Jeffrey Wright will no doubt sour the experience for some, but Source Code is far more than the Duncan Jones career-stopgap that many were predicting. Sharp, original and remarkably controlled, it’s 2011’s action thriller to beat as far as I’m concerned.