In 2009, Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) made his directorial début with the near perfect sci-fi drama Moon, which starred Sam Rockwell as an astronaut sent to the planet to farm a critical energy resource. Both a critical and financial success (it reaped almost $10 million on a $5 million budget), Moon was nominated for many awards but cruelly lost out. Now, Jones follows up his masterpiece with another venture into science fiction, although this is without a doubt much more accessible to a wider audience. But has his transition into mainstream cinema compromised on the quality of his work?
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, The Day After Tomorrow, Prince Of Persia) wakes up groggily on a train, looking dazed and confused. His reflection in the mirror is a different one than what we see, and a woman (Michelle Monaghan) speaks to him like they’ve been friends for years. Whilst trying to explain to her that he has no idea who she is, an explosion rips through the train killing all on board. Stevens then wakes up in a chamber, and is greeted by Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farminga, Up In The Air) via satellite link. She explains to him that he’s inside the “Source Code”, a program designed to allow people to take over someone else’s body for the last 8 minutes of their life and earlier in the day a bomb was detonated on a passenger train bound for Chicago. Stevens mission is to find the bomber and prevent any more attacks, but with only eight minutes per attempt and the clock ticking to an imminent attack on the city, can Stevens find the culprit before it’s too late?
From the very first moments, Source Code impresses. The aerial shots of Chicago are nothing new, and seems to only be there to fit the credits in, but it’s the soundtrack which caught my attention. Incredibly atmospheric and tense, Chris Bacon has created a score that really stands out as unique. Whilst the first five minutes were familiar to me (they’re all over the internet: I couldn’t resist), seeing the train explosion the way it was meant to be seen was fantastic.
Gyllenhaal has always been an odd choice as a lead actor for me; I go to see the films he’s in because of the premise, not for his face; he’s like an audience member who volunteers in a magic show. You know he’s there, but your attention is elsewhere. After seeing his performance here, my opinion of him has slightly changed: sure, he plays a generic lead with hardly any interesting traits, but he does it well. The real star is Vera Farminga as Capt. Goodwin, who genuinely seems morally torn on occasions where her actions can affect Stevens’ life. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a bad film that sh..
Oh, wait. Orphan. Monaghan is fine as the two dimensional damsel in distress character, but again there’s nothing that makes her stand out.
In its lean 92 minute runtime, Source Code desperately tries to keep the viewer guessing, whether it be about the location of the bomb, the bomber, where Stevens is and more which I won’t give away. Fortunately the majority of plot turns work, but with more twists than an hour long game of Bop It there was bound to be some that didn’t. Whilst this is a sci-fi and an “open mind” helps, there’s only so much one can take before it becomes a little ridiculous. The film can hardly be faulted for a good hour or so, but the closing of the third act really hurts the picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually wasn’t the ending that Jones wanted, but producers weren’t happy with the unconventional nature of it, so tacked on a ‘happy’ one.
Source Code isn’t as memorable as Moon, but is a fun and effective thriller that takes longer to ask questions than it does to answer them, leaving some unanswered. But with Jones building a very strong track record behind the camera, we can expect big things from him.