Possibly the most purely entertaining film of 2011 so far, Source Code shows that director Duncan Jones is already one of the better filmmakers working today. While not the masterpiece that Moon was, this is a decidedly great throwback type of film. It’s almost a B-movie, but so much more than that. It’s incredibly clever, and manages to somehow not lose sight of the human element involved in this science fiction tale. Jones makes sci-fi flicks that accentuate the realism of the genre, and it’s a welcome sight. What might have been a standard order race against time action movie is elevated to incredibly levels by an attention to detail and a real sense of passion, along with a good lead performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. The logic of the film might falter slightly if you think too hard about it, but with the expert pacing of Jones behind the camera, you never have time to think about it. You’re too busy enjoying the movie. When Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up to find himself on a commuter train, it’s the last place he expected to be. His last memory is crashing his helicopter while on a mission in Afghanistan, so this makes no sense. The woman across from him is named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) and seems to know him, but calls him Sean. When he looks in the mirror, he looks like someone else. Stevens is incredibly confused, and then a bomb goes off on the train, killing all onboard. This leads Stevens to wake up again and realize that he’s somewhere else. A military officer named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) is asking him questions, and a strange man (Jeffrey Wright) is milling around in the background. What slowly becomes clear to him is that he’s part of a program called “Source Code,” a science experiment that lets him essentially become someone else for the final 8 minutes of their life. More or less, Colter is now Sean, and has to find out the identity of the train bomber, as he’s getting set to strike again. While going back into the program again and again, Stevens slowly begins to solve the mystery, but also is working to solve the mystery of how he got involved in the program and just what exactly Source Code is. He’s also developing feelings for Christina, and despite assurances from Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge (the strange man who we find out is the inventor of the program) that he can’t save her, he becomes determined to try.
Despite being given limited character development, all of the actors shine. Jake Gyllenhaal is the perfect action hero, unsure of himself at first but eventually a confident man on a mission. He also plays the romantic aspect well, something he proved adept at last year with Love and Other Drugs. Monaghan doesn’t get to do too much, but she plays well off of Gyllenhaal, something essential in this movie. Farmiga and Wright do a lot of acting that’s only seen through closed circuit monitors, and they impressively still manage to convey a lot. Farmiga does a great job with her crisis (no spoilers here), and Wright plays a classic type of character. All 4 of them take a good screenplay and make it great.
Doing more directorially than he did with Moon, Jones continues to show that he’s a master of directing (he even includes a great Easter Egg to fans of his first movie. Listen carefully and you’ll hear it!). With a perfect eye for exactly what shot is best at any given moment and impeccable pacing, he keeps the movie from ever lagging. I literally was shocked the film moved as fast as it did. I can’t say enough about the work Jones did. The screenplay by Ben Ripley is good, but needed the elevation that Jones and company gave it.
It’s more or less the action thriller version of Groundhog Day (but with a twist I won’t reveal), but the crew never makes it feel old. As previously mentioned, the science falls apart on close inspection, but it’s enough fun that you likely won’t feel the need to do so.
If you crossed Inception with Groundhog Day and filtered it through Alfred Hitchcock’s brain, the end result might be Source Code. I absolutely loved the film and can’t recommend it enough. If nothing else, we now know that Moon wasn’t a fluke.
Duncan Jones is the real deal and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next!