Dear Source Code,
Oh, you had such high expectations to live up to. Not on a national scale, mind you – nothing so epic and world-swallowing as Sucker Punch. No, your pre-release hype was purely personal. You see, I was a fan of your director’s first effort, Moon, and eagerly awaited your arrival. As the first movie was a masterful blend of serious science fiction and human drama on a small scale, I was eager to see what would happen when that same deft hand of creation was applied to a larger canvas. Needless to say, I was also worried that you and your director would buckle under the weight of both my expectations and the inflated budget.
It pleases me to say, then, that you are precisely as I hoped you would be – a bigger, broader, more accessible expansion of the same themes that made your fore-bearer such a triumph. You serve as a reminder to all those who doubt the ability of a director to turn from indie to mainstream that there’s no need to fear so long as the director’s talents are true.
You begin from a position of strength, placing the audience in the same situation as your protagonist, Colter Stevens. We wake up on a train with no idea what is happening, and through confusion and uncertainty we slowly learn the truth of the situation – that we are in the Source Code, a replaying of the last eight minutes of a man’s life through his eyes. This military simulation allows for an investigation into the identity and motivation of a bomber who has destroyed the train and threatens to strike again.
The high-tech yet accessible plot, which relies on advanced concepts to execute a simple idea, lends you an air of originality that you never deign to rest upon. It would have been easy for a lesser movie to accentuate the very hipness and novelty of your idea in place of humanity of relatable characters. You, though, take the time to allow us an insight into the motivations and feelings of your characters.
A lot of credit for this goes to your lead performers, who all take fairly archetypal roles and somehow invest them with life and charm. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan are both actors who I have liked as people more than performers up until this point. However, here they give amiable and yet affecting performances that allow for a greater investment in your story. Gyllenhaal gives Colter a personal bemusement and professional ferocity that make him a credible military man, while Monaghan deviates in several ways from the straight-woman template to which I have grown accustomed.
Likewise, the central mystery of your storyline engages readily and persistently, pulling the audience along for the ride. This, mixed with your strong sense of humor and the dynamism of your action scenes gives you an energetic verve that is infectious in the best possible way.
It is your underlying message, though, that gives you the greatest impact and elevates you above the slew of similarly paced spectacle pictures that will be coming in the months to follow. The same messages concerning advanced technology used to devalue human life by large organizations that was present in Moon runs through your veins. And, just as in the previous film, this utilitarian exploitation of human life is made all the more startling because the underlying purpose is altruistic. Clean energy and protecting the innocent both become the ends that justify terrible means.
Without this intellectual through-line you would still be a fun, engaging ride, but the thought-provoking ideas at the heart of you add an extra layer of enjoyment to the proceedings. Mental stimulation, after all, heightens the appreciation of any relationship.
You are not without fault though, Source Code. As I said at the beginning of this letter, you expand the scope of the previous film, and yet maintain it’s themes and heart. The problem, however, is that among all the bigger action and greater stakes, the heart of you sometimes begins to be stretched thin. The greater spectacle dilutes and sometimes distracts from what is otherwise a very human tale. If you had managed to keep a bit more of your predecesor’s concentrated, cerebral nature you might have found a greater foothold in my heart. As it stands, your looser, lighter touch is only good enough for a strong infatuation, not an enduring love.
But that feels like a criticism leveled more at my own ideals and expectations rather than your merits. The simple, unvarnished truth of the matter is that you manage to merge style and substance, entertainment and ideas in a way that is rare in Hollywood, and for that reason you deserve a lot of attention and applause.
Not to mention, you’re just one heck of a fun time at the movies.
Looking forward to seeing you again,
Brian J. Roan