4 April 2011


Duncan Jones properly makes a name for himself with Source Code- and goodness knows it's not easy to make a name for yourself when your birth name is Zowie Bowie. After his astonishingly good debut Moon in 2009, he takes on a bigger budget to direct Jake Gyllenhaal as an Air Force helicopter pilot who's drafted into a top secret government science project.

Captain Colter Stevens wakes up on board a commuter train, in a body that is not his own. Everyone else sees him as the man he appears to have inhabited, a teacher called Sean Fentress, including Sean's colleague Christina. Eight minutes later, the train explodes, bombed by an unknown attacker. In a cramped capsule at a government facility, Colter is repeatedly put through those eight minutes by a technology called source code, with the goal of discovering the bomber's identity before he strikes again in the real world.

Following The Adjustment Bureau and Limitless in recent weeks, Source Code presents itself as another more intelligent sci-fi, driven by characters and generally very well executed. Duncan Jones is once again directing from a script that is not his, but he still indelibly makes it his own film. It shares some of the same themes as Moon, and some selected shots of Jake Gyllenhaal in isolation that echo those in the earlier film.

Of the script however, it has to be said that the wrong director could have easily gone off the rails with it. Imagining Tony Scott directing this script is a concept that... well, it's actually remarkably like Deja Vu, a Scott film in which frequent collaborator Denzel Washington plays a cop tasked with travelling back in time to prevent a terrorist attack. The easy distinction to make here is that Source Code does not uphold the idea that the past can be changed, instead opting for a multiversal approach.

Each time Colter attempts his mission, it creates a new reality, and there's always the sense that those realities go on even after Colter reawakens in his capsule. It's a fascinating conceit, and one that leads to the maximum amount of emotional turmoil for the pilot as he falls in love with Michelle Monaghan's Christina. Monaghan is a vastly underappreciated actress, and she makes the most out of what is essentially an underwritten character, getting the audience on-side from the offset.

Gyllenhaal is less distinctive but no less accomplished in the lead role. Jones' leading man from Moon, Sam Rockwell could arguably have pulled it off better, but it's certainly not bad casting. It pains me to say that the single instance of bad casting, which almost pulled down the whole movie for me, involves the usually reliable Jeffrey Wright. He channels Shatner as Professor Rutledge, hamming it up in a performance that really belongs in another movie. By contrast, Vera Farmiga, with whom he shares most of his scenes, is the very picture of restraint and consideration.

The best thing to say in the film's favour is that it never seems repetitive, even for a moment. This is a plot that is predicated upon a character repeating the last eight minutes of a man's life ad infinitum, doing things a little differently each time, and it always feels fresh. The premise reminded me a little of Quantum Leap, and to that effect, Jones cast Scott Bakula in a short cameo. That's just one example of the intertextual nous at Jones' disposal, which complements and enhances his visionary approach.

It's a nimble watch at 93 minutes, and as far as its denouement, it seems to occupy the same headspace as Back to the Future. Neither that film nor Source Code particularly bothered to ground the mechanics of their central apparatus in actually established scientific knowledge, and both films circumnavigate their plotholes by being accessible and hugely entertaining. Duncan Jones continues to be an exciting filmmaker, and long may he continue to exhibit his beating heart as much as his brain, in clever and touching sci-fi features like this one.

Source Code is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Source Code, why not share your comments below? It's my birthday today, so be nice.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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