With 2009’s Moon proving to be an emerging cult hit, Duncan Jones’ second feature will have a lot to live up to amongst sci-fi and high-concept film fans. They will be pleased to hear then that Source Code is an extremely satisfying and streamlined thriller based on ideas rather than explosions (even though there are many of them. Actually wait, they’re all the same one). And even though this is being released before Summer blockbuster season, it sets a pretty high standard for films to come.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Capt. Colter Stevens, a US Army pilot who wakes up on a train with no recollection of where he is or where he is going. Furthermore the woman infront of him (Michelle Monaghan) seems to insinuate they’re a couple. Eight minutes later, the train explodes and Stevens once again wakes up, but this time in an enclosed pod laced with circuitry and television monitors. It’s through these he is able to communicate with an army desk officer, Goodwin (Vera Farminga), who proceeds to tell him that he is currently in the middle of a cerebrally-induced simulation — a terrorist attack that happened earlier in the day — and must find the identity of the bomber before he strikes again.
Given that it is a simulation however, he is able to repeat the situation over and over to amass clues and relay back new information, presenting a Groundhog Day style progression to the film. Themes of displaced identities and fate-altering also brings to mind Quantum Leap, and the fingerprints of Chris Marker are all over this. The specifics of how this is happening and why is the heart of Stevens’ quest, which unravels like a good spy novel, or an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Despite being built on quite heavy concepts like time-travel, mind-travel, fate and destiny, Source Code never feels weighed down by them, mainly eschewing technical details for emotional ones. Capt. Stevens is given many solitary moments in which he tackles his existential and practical dilemmas, and there is an inherent sympathy with someone cut off from reality being treated like a test subject. Both those elements featured heavily in Duncan’s first feature Moon, which is decidedly more ‘sci-fi’, but less of an adventure overall. The link that builds up between Gyllenhaal and Monaghan however never really feels realistic given the circumstances, and the ending relies a little too much on their union.
But ultimately this appears to be tooled for maximum mainstream appeal, and it packs enough emotional anchors and universal truths about fate and morality to satisfy sci-fi fans and non-fans alike. Duncan Jones proves once again he is a great emerging director to watch.
Movie Rating: 4/5