Source Code marks director Duncan Jones’ return to the big screen after his first film and sleeper hit, Moon. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and the radiant Michelle Monaghan with a story by Ben Ripley, Source Code is a science fiction story about helicopter pilot, Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) who has been selected for reasons unbeknown to him to be part of the Source Code project. Placed in another man’s body, Colter gets to repeatedly relive the last 8 minutes of his life – the last 8 minutes right before a terrorist bomb explodes (they do explain the “science” behind this). Each time he re-enters the fray he begins with the memories of his last attempt, thereby inching his way forward to solving the case and preventing a even bigger attack in downtown Chicago – or at least, that’s the hope.
Source Code is the new Duncan Jones masterpiece. Sharply directed and constantly thrilling, this is the kind of speculative science fiction that never lets up. While one could imagine this to have been a huge action Will Smith-esque vehicle, director Jones flips it around and gives it a very Moon-ish vibe instead, interspersing the action with silence, with just enough time for meditation on the past trip and what happens in between. Just like Sam Rockwell in Moon, here Gyllenhaal’s character Colter Stevens is all alone too – even while he gets to know Christina (Monaghan) better, or even when he gets past the military wall that constantly tasks him to focus on his mission. And in the end, this solitude, even in a crowd, heightens the emotions and our connection with Colter.
Duncan Jones exhibits a sense of economy in film that is refreshing right after the sensory overload that was Sucker Punch (and many other summer movies, i.e. Transformers). The action is tight and never overwrought and we never linger too long in each scene. Even during the repeats Jones understands when the audience has seen enough and moves quickly into the key beats, instead of forcing us to relive each 8 min over and over again, which any director might be tempted to do in the name of “art”. Each re-entry can be quite intense too, such then when each 8 mins are over, we the audience are sucked back into the silence – the effect here is perfect.
When it comes to huge science fiction summer events, I’d even go as far to say Source Code matches or even surpasses last year’s behemoth, Inception. While Inception was extremely pretty it did seem as if, at a certain point, it got so caught up with possibilities that it forgot, just for that moment, about the people beneath. Source Code never takes its eye off Colter, and in the end it’s that extra human touch that makes it a warmer cup of tea. It’s not a hard and fast rule that science fiction works hand in hand with the study of humanity, but I think when we view ourselves in the lens of speculative science – that’s when it works best.
Of course, special mention must go out to the special effects guys, just for that scene when Colter jumps out of the train, and one more scene at the end featuring the most amazing practical effects – and that’s a dying art, what with the prevalence of CGI. But ultimately, all this would be impossible if not for the actors and even the smaller cast members making full use of their time onscreen (though one question remains – what on earth is Russell Peters doing in the movie?), and the acting, all round, is impressive, with special mention for Vera Farmiga’s Captain Goodwin, I’ll have to spoil the movie to explain why, so I shan’t.
Maybe it’s possible that Source Code could have been better – but even now it’s hard for me to say where the flaws lie. Even with the possible paradoxes waved around, and even a possible lapse in military foresight (see if you catch this one – it leads to a somewhat red (pink?) herring) can be easily explained away if you take the time to. Some have drawn attention to a Hollywood-style ending, but on the other hand it’s something they’ve always suggested from the beginning, and if you pay attention you’d know why, and I personally think it makes perfect sense. If every summer movie was to be like this, it would be a great summer indeed.
% of time awake: 100%
Source Code opens this week in cinemas islandwide.