Source Code (2011)

Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Ben Ripley

Imagine waking up in a strange place, at a strange time and meeting strange people, including a whole new you that features new looks and a new name. That is what happens to Air Force Sgt. Colter Stevens, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, in the new film Source Code. The last memory Stevens has is as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. But when he awakens he finds himself involved in a strange program called the “Source Code”. The program has inserted him into the last 8 minutes of another man’s life with the single goal of finding his killer. In this case, it is the killer of hundreds on a Chicago commuter train when a large bomb detonates onboard.

Locked inside the program which keeps sending him back in for 8 more minutes, Stevens is not given much information from his command center contact, Goodwin, and Source Code’s creator, Dr. Rutledge. But they have their reasons as they are hiding the strange twists in store for both Stevens and the audience. Given the nature of the narrative, similar to director Duncan Jones’ debut film Moon, there are very few characters, and other than the main character, not much is asked of the actors. In this case, those side players include Michelle Monaghan as a familiar fellow passenger on the train, as well as Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright as the tight-lipped pair guiding the “Source Code” for Stevens.

Each time Jones sends us back into the last 8 minutes before the explosion, we see or discover something new about the situation, and we also begin to slowly learn what exactly “Source Code” is and who Colter Stevens is. Gyllenhaal makes the character sympathetic and very human, mixing in small instances of comedy in with the high stakes of the plot situation.

The way Jones structures the film keeps the audience, along with Stevens, guessing, which creates great suspense. The pacing is another brilliant stroke. The fast pace, off set by short periods of exposition, keeps you on your toes and the runtime seems to fly by.

The music score is reminiscent of classic thrillers, which suits the film’s tightly structured script, which creates enough answers to its twists and turns to not bury itself in plot holes. One of the few weaknesses of the film, however, is when the selfish ambitions of one character are personified as an alternate villain to the culprit of the train bombing. In fact, the final act, while fine on its own, seems stylistically and thematically different from the rest of the film to the point that it is jarring. But despite that dichotomy, it somehow works and brings a sensible conclusion to a tale that is able to flow between being a science fiction, romance, thriller and suspense film all at the same time.

Duncan Jones, son of famous rock star David Bowie, proves that he is an accomplished filmmaker. Between his last effort, the great film Moon featuring a strong central performance from Sam Rockwell, and this film, it is clear that the theatrics of his father were in fact inherited by Jones.

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