Director Duncan Jones first appeared on the Hollywood scene in 2009 with his work on the psychological and introspective sci-fi drama Moon. In his latest film Source Code, Jones takes the surrealism and depth of his previous work and applies it to the thriller genre, making for a complex, intriguing movie.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens, an Air Force pilot who wakes up in another man’s body on a commuter train to Chicago on which a bomb is planted. The captain learns that he is part of a government experiment known as the Source Code, which allows him to inhabit the body of one of the train’s passengers in the minutes leading up the detonation of the bomb. His mission is to keep reliving the same sequence and gather as much information as possible about where the bomb is located and which passenger is responsible for planting it. As the scenario continues to replay and Stevens gets closer to discovering the culprit, he also falls for Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a woman onboard who is involved with the man whose body Stevens inhabits. He eventually begins to realize that the distinction between the simulation and reality may not be as clear-cut as it had initially seemed.
Source Code is a riveting techno-thriller that makes for a gripping 94 minutes. The film could even be referred to as Groundhog Day on steroids. The recurrence of the same eight-minute train scene, from different perspectives, gives the audience a chance to search for clues leading to the identity of the terrorist and adds a level of mystery to the film. The suspense of whether the protagonist will complete his mission is resolved surprisingly early within the film and segues into an unanticipated and surprisingly moving climax.
While the inventive screenplay is undoubtedly the primary reason to see Source Code, certain aspects of it (the love interest in particular) are slightly contrived and distract from the rest of the ingenious plot. Although critiquing the acting seems like an unnecessary afterthought, it is worth noting that Gyllenhaal’s performance is solid and unexpectedly visceral. Even more laudatory, however, is the supporting role of Vera Farmiga, who first saw attention for her role in the acclaimed 2009 comedy-drama Up In The Air. In this film, Farmiga portrays Goodwin, the woman assigned to guide the protagonist through his mission. Her struggle to maintain a sense of professionalism while clearly developing an emotional attachment to the captain is extremely well-captured.
Source Code definitely wins my vote for 2011’s most intelligent film to date. Its complexity is stupefying, yet it never approaches a convoluted and inaccessible level á la Inception. It is a fresh take on both the science fiction and thriller genres, and reaches a degree of depth and poignancy that truly distinguishes it from most films of its kind. Its thrills are exciting, its comedic touches are both humorous and relieving and its resolution leaves you thinking.