Duncan Jones’ “Source Code” is being likened to many movies, including “Groundhog Day” and even Jones’ debut, “Moon.” But I think the most comparisons are to “12 Monkeys.” There are traces of that — as well as, then, “La Jetee,” upon which “12 Monkeys” is based — mainly the premise of a guy going back in time to gather information on a disaster without the ability to change the events. And if we’re going to align the films, I’d like to start the campaign by sending a memo to the Academy early that Jeffrey Wright needs to be recognized with an Oscar nomination just as Brad Pitt was honored 15 years ago.
The rest of the cast in “Source Code,” including Jake Gyllenhaal, is fine, though Vera Farmiga is somehow stiffer than usual in her relatively stationary performance (I’ve never seen her appeal, myself), but Wright really goes above and beyond the call of duty for his scenes as an eccentric, socially awkward and physically handicapped scientist who has invented the “source code” time travel technique that allows Jake Gyllenhaal’s soldier to make quantum leaps (yes, the film is easily compared to the TV show and even pays it a bit of tribute) into the recent past.
The character actor has been doing exceptional work in minor roles for years and has hardly received much recognition outside of his breakthrough starring role in “Basquiat.” Once in a while he will have reason for notice by portraying another famous figure, like Colin Powell or Muddy Waters, and sadly he’s been seemingly taking it easy in some Hollywood films, like the James Bond series, but when a director like Jones or Jim Jarmusch gives him room, he develops a performance that catches the audience’s eye.
“Jeffrey Wright is an amazing actor,” Jones acknowledged after a screening at NYC’s Museum of the Moving Image last Friday. “He kind of reminds me of Sam Rockwell. He’s one of those really underrated but incredibly talented guys that I just love seeing whenever he’s on screen. Having the opportunity to work with [great actors], I really do consider it my responsibility to give them an environment where they feel that they can do what’s in their heads, as long as it fits the film. Jeffrey had this idea of what he wanted to do, and there were some real world personalities and characters that he loosely based it on. I just kind of went with it. It’s one of these slight roles that could easily disappear and I didn’t feel that was fair to bring an actor like Jeffrey Wright onto a project and then have him disappear into the background.”
Sadly, he’ll probably still disappear in terms of kudos. If Rockwell couldn’t get a nod for “Moon,” Wright won’t get one for a film that will likely be forgotten by summer let alone Oscar season. And should I mind? I hate awards and especially the Oscars anyway. And even if Wright had a chance of being another Brad Pitt (who probably would still be the star he is today without the “12 Monkeys” nomination), I’d rather he continue showing up in inventive little parts like this, thereby turning a decent Hollywood movie into a better one simply for the fact that it treats all its characters with equal respect (next up are supporting roles in films by George Clooney and Stephen Daldry). Still, I want him to be known, celebrated and more employed, so whatever it takes, I’m down for that campaign.
I can see critics referring to Wright’s work in “Source Code” as “better than the character calls for” (or deserves, or requires, etc.), yet that’s such a sad thing to say. Every part of a film should be great if the film intends to be great, and while this isn’t meant to be any kind of masterpiece, well-known to be Jones’ “one for them” kind of films, it’s hardly a sell-out or turkey-shoot gig in terms of creativity and care (the fact that Jones will show so much dedication and effort to a project like this shows he’s on his way to being another Christopher Nolan, only better in my prediction). and I’m totally thankful that both Jones and Wright see it the same way.
Here’s a clip of Wright in the movie: