By Marty Mulrooney
Source Code is a science fiction thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko), Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Vera Farmiga (Up In The Air) and Jeffrey Wright (Quantum Of Solace). Two years after directing the award-winning British science fiction film Moon starring Sam Rockwell, director Duncan Jones returns to the big screen with a massive increase in budget ($32 million compared to Moon’s $5 million) and an even bigger story to tell. The action may take place on Earth this time around, but Jones is clearly a director who is still aiming for the stars…
The film begins with Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) waking up on a train headed towards Chicago with no memory of how he got there. The ID card in his wallet identifies him as Sean Fentress and upon looking in the restroom mirror, he sees a different man’s face staring back. Understandably confused, Stevens panics, racing through the various compartments whilst trying to make sense of his surroundings. Then the train blows up and everybody dies.
Don’t worry, that last sentence wasn’t a spoiler. In fact, it’s the entire premise of the film. Stevens is actually inside the ‘Source Code’, a program that allows the user to relive the last 8 minutes of a deceased person’s life. Awakening inside a cramped chamber, Stevens is informed by Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and the Source Code’s creator Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) that he must find the bomber so they can prevent a dirty bomb detonating that could kill millions. Before he even has time to argue, Stevens is back on the train again, and the clock is ticking…
Like the bastard child of Groundhog Day and Run Lola Run, Source Code injects a lethal dose of déjà vu into what would otherwise be a routine thriller. There are many different elements at play throughout Source Code and Duncan Jones and his cast must be applauded for piling on the twists and turns whilst avoiding any major plot holes or causes of confusion. The audience is right there with Stevens every step of the way. Where is the bomb? How is he going to deactivate the bomb? Who is the bomber? What happens if he just gets off the train? The repetitive nature of the film never outstays its welcome: it is a joy to watch Stevens progress further and further with each subsequent replay.
Of course, all of this confusion, paranoia and desperate searching would be relatively meaningless if there wasn’t something – or someone – truly worth saving. Just as Stevens begins to question his own fate with each reawakening back in the present, he also starts to form a bond with fellow passenger Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) whenever he goes back onto the train. Although told he cannot save her, he decides to try and this forms the emotional core of the film, fusing all of the numerous disparate elements together. The puzzles that the film initially introduces soon become secondary to later plot developments that totally warp the narrative, turning it on its head. This is a film of constant movement, the fact that it is set on a train thoroughly apt.
To say anything more would be entering spoiler territory, but suffice to say, Source Code does exactly what it sets out to do. The performances are solid, with Gyllenhaal in particular the most likable he has been in years. Of course, it is difficult at times not to draw parallels with Moon – there is even the occasional cheeky nod – and it must be noted that this reviewer thought both the special effects (the slightly dodgy CGI train crash) and soundtrack (composer Chris Bacon offers a rousing yet generic score) were slightly inferior to Jones’ 2009 debut.
Even so, Source Code gets many, many things right. It is a delight to watch Jones flexing his filmmaking muscles with such a big budget production; he undoubtedly lends the somewhat sillier moments a sense of gravitas they would have otherwise not had. A potentially crippling ending is masterfully extended to become both thought provoking and memorable and the overall experience is immensely satisfying. Not quite the revelation Moon was, Source Code still manages to sell an intelligent science fiction story to the masses and for that, I applaud it. Duncan Jones has just cemented his place as one of the most promising directors working in the film industry today.
8.5 OUT OF 10
If you enjoyed this review please be sure to check out my 2009 interview with director Duncan Jones here.