Source Code, 2011.
Directed by Duncan Jones .
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga.
Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, wakes up in the body of a man he doesn’t recognise on a commuter train to Chicago. Before he can comprehend anything, a bomb goes off, killing him and everyone on the train. He then awakens in some kind of chamber, where he is told he is inside the ‘Source Code’, and has to go back and relive the last eight minutes continuously until he finds and identifies the bomber, so that no more innocent civilians have to die.
Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie) rose to prominence when he came out of nowhere with his debut feature Moon, a masterful work of science fiction and pretty much the best film of 2009. It was simultaneously a tribute to the sci-fi genre while being entirely fresh and original, marking Jones as a confident and skilled director, smart enough to realise that to make sci-fi work, you have to have a human story at its core.
The idea behind Source Code, that the main character Colter is able to ‘relive’ the last eight minutes of Sean Fentress’ life in order to find the bomb and identify the bomber, is grounded purely in sci-fi, but, like Moon, it’s a human story at heart, and one that’s almost entirely on the shoulders of Jake Gyllenhaal. His performance in what is almost a one-man-show of a film is thankfully, excellent – at first confused and scared, but then determined to save the lives of the passengers on the train in order to make his father proud. The scenes when he calls his father, pretending to be Sean Fentress (just so he can speak to him one last time), claiming to be a soldier that served with his son Colter, is heartfelt and powerful and conveyed beautifully by Gyllenhaal.
With such a fantastical premise, Source Code could have fallen into the trap of ‘two-and-a-half-hours of navel gazing’, but Jones handles the pacing very well. We see Colter going back to the train a few times but it doesn’t get repetitive – each time Colter’s approach is different, then Jones speeds the sequences up, utilising snappy editing to maintain audience interest. The film moves so quickly that we don’t have time to focus on the plot holes and, ultimately, they don’t matter anyway. Yes, the idea of Source Code isn’t terribly well explained, yes, Colter has free will and can do whatever he wants in the last eight minutes of someone else’s life (huh?), and so yes, he’s in an alternative reality (hang on a minute…) but remember this is a thriller with science fiction at it’s core. Everything doesn’t need to be explained, it’s science fiction! So long as it’s backed up with real emotion, likeable characters and a fantastic story, all of which Source Code has, then, as far as I’m concerned, plot holes can be easily forgiven. Source Code’s complex but ingenious premise is explored via the plotting but it doesn’t become what the story is ultimately about, yet another masterstroke from Jones, because if it had, Source Code wouldn’t be nearly as effective and enjoyable as it is.
Also of special note is the excellent score from Chris P. Bacon, who has created a lively and playful backing for the action, almost Hitchcockian in it’s kinetic tension. Strings leap and weave throughout the visuals, so seamlessly suited as to become almost unnoticeable, completely married to the image.
While the ending is a little hard to grasp, Source Code generally doesn’t allow itself to get too bogged down in parallel realities et al, which could have easily rendered the film a mess in the hands of a less competent director. Jones easily rises to the challenge and turns in a taut, whip-smart and inventive thriller, aided by Gyllenhaal’s relatable turn as the honest everyman caught in a situation he doesn’t understand. While not quite as downright incredible as Moon, Source Code is still an ingenious thriller – this is sci-fi done confidently and compactly. Original ideas are growing ever rare in today’s world of sequels, remakes and 3D, and Source Code is a welcome return to compelling and original entertainment without dumbing or talking down to the audience. Accept it for it’s shortcomings and enjoy the ride because you won’t be disappointed.
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