Following the incredible critical and commercial success of Inception last year, 2011 is seeing a crop of high-concept blockbusters hitting screens in an attempt to capitalise on the audiences captivated by Christopher Nolan’s cerebral thriller. In a month that also sees the release of Limitless and The Adjustment Bureau; Source Code, Duncan Jones’ follow up to the excellent Moon, stands out as the best of this new bunch.
The premise is thus: protagonist Colter Stevens, played capably by the likeable Jake Gyllenhaal, wakes up on a train heading toward Chicago, confused and disoriented. His last memory is of piloting a helicopter in Afghanistan, and as he struggles to make sense of his surroundings, we quickly learn that he has somehow assumed the identity of another man. Eight minutes pass, and a sudden explosion rips through the train, consuming the carriage and killing everyone on board. Predictably, however, all is not as it seems; Stevens wakes up in a mysterious cell, confronted by the enigmatic Goodwin, a terse and exacting Vera Farmiga, who promptly sends him back to ‘re-live’ the same eight minutes in an attempt to identify the bomber.
Stevens faces a race against the clock, repeatedly trying (and failing) to stop the bombing whilst attempting to discover more about his own situation. It’s all a bit silly, but the interesting, Groundhog Day-style scenario plays out briskly, with Jones wasting little time on extraneous sub-plots, while also managing to inject some welcome elements of humour into an intense ninety minutes. Gyllenhaal and Farmiga are joined by love interest Michelle Monaghan and a delightfully overacting Jeffrey Wright, the small cast allowing the audience to invest in the characters, in addition to aiding the overall coherence of the plot.
It may lack the atmosphere and aesthetics of Moon, and the saccharine ending grates slightly, especially when compared to Inception’s masterful conclusion, but as an exciting, engaging, and satisfying thriller, Source Code does a lot of things right. The tagline reads, ‘Make Every Second Count’, and it’s hard to think of a more fitting précis for a film so tightly constructed, and for a director who continues to exceed expectation.
Available 9th May
Blue Valentine is the anti-romcom. Charting the birth and eventual breakdown of a relationship, Derek Cianfrance’s latest feature is a poignant study of love, ageing and the loss of innocence. The film begins in the present, with Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) arguing over the finer points of oatmeal, but periodically flashes back to the time when the couple first met.
Both characters come from working-class backgrounds and, albeit in different ways, from broken homes. While Dean’s mother left him when he was very young, Cindy’s parents chose to stay together, stubbornly suffering through a loveless marriage. As Cindy ironically puts it; “I don’t ever want to be like my parents. I know that they must have loved each other at one time right? Did they just get it all out of the way before they had me?”
Where romcoms tend to be somewhat two-dimensional, predictably concluding with two ridiculously attractive people getting it together, Cianfrance’s film attempts to show the whole spectrum of love – from the romantic idealism of youth to the loneliness and regret of old age. The bittersweet nature of the movie is elegantly summed up in what is arguably its most memorable scene: Ryan Gosling crooning out ‘You Always Hurt the Ones You Love’ on ukulele with Michelle Williams tap-dancing in a doorway – at once affecting and tragic.
Blue Valentine is a very intelligent, beautifully realised piece of filmmaking and was clearly a labour of love for all those involved. One example of this is in Andrij Parekh’s thoughtful cinematography: the warm, nostalgia-tinted flashbacks shot on film, the comparatively cold present scenes captured on digital. In preparation for filming, Gosling and Williams also spent a month living together, buying groceries on a budget, getting to know each other and, most importantly, arguing. The resulting performances are remarkable in their authenticity, with Williams picking up a greatly deserved Oscar nomination. The film is a brilliant example of what American cinema can achieve when it is freed from the rigidity of the Hollywood machine.
Special Features: Audio Commentary, Making Of, Deleted Scenes, Q&A.