Like many new filmmakers, British director Duncan Jones has an awful lot to prove with his second feature – particularly as his 2009 debut, Moon, is widely regarded as one of the best independent sci-fi films of recent years. But, while Source Code never quite reaches the dizzy heights of Moon, it undoubtedly marks Jones out as a remarkable new talent.
It’s certainly a glitzier, bigger budgeted affair, with grand production values, explosive special effects and Hollywood golden boy Jake Gyllenhaal stepping into the lead role. When we first meet him, he is just an ordinary commuter on a Chicago-bound train; jolted awake, however, it soon becomes clear that all is not as it appears. Thanks to some discombobulating camera word from Don Burgess, we share Gyllenhaal’s panic and confusion as he realises the face in the mirror is not his own; a sense of unreality that’s compounded when a sudden explosion catapults him into an army lab.
Through a conversation with scientist Colleen Goodman (Vera Farmiga), it transpires that he is actually US soldier Colter Stevens who, by the magic of top secret anti-terrorism technology called ‘source code’, has been transplanted into the memory banks of one of the victims of the explosion. Based on the idea that the final few minutes of anyone’s life can be harvested after their death, Stevens is charged with reliving the eight minutes prior to the explosion so he can seek out the identity of the bomber and so prevent further acts of terrorism.
Suffice it to say, suspension of disbelief is a crucial foundation to screenwriter Ben Ripley’s story and, for the most part, it holds. A superb, emotionally-charged performance from Gyllenhaal means that, despite his crazy predicament, it’s easy to find a sense of common ground with Stevens ; struggling to reconcile his own fate, as well as those around him , makes for a sympathetic and likeable hero. Although most of the supporting characters are, by the nature of the premise, reduced to pawns in this Groundhog Day-styled chess game, Michelle Monaghan’s effervescence and charm breathes real life into fellow train passenger Christina, and her relationship with Stevens lends the film its heart.
For his part, Jones ensures that the pace is so fast-moving that adrenaline flows off the screen. As we relive the same eight minutes, fragments of the puzzle are thrown at us; the clock always ticking down to that explosive climax which happens over and over and over again. Jones also handles the shifts in tone from the train to the army lab with great skill, ensuring the audience simply isn’t given any time to stop and think.
That all changes, however, in the film’s final moments. An attempt to stick a pat Hollywood ending onto the story, one which ties up all emotional and moral loose ends, invites the audience to question all that had previously been glossed over and, as a result, the narrative collapses under the weight of its own logic. It simply doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.
Yet Source Code is simply not a film you should dissect, analyse or take as a serious scientific statement. It’s actually a bold – and often brilliant – piece of action filmmaking, which artfully blends notions of identity and fate with blockbuster effects and some snappy editing. Taken at such face value, it’s an exhilarating experience that kicks off the summer season in serious style.
UK Release Date: April 1, 2011