Director Duncan Jones is a talented filmmaker. Last year’s Moon was a terrific little science fiction film that deviated from your standard genre fare. It actually had ideas and wasn’t about endless gunfights with random alien creatures (although those can be fun too, as seen with the recent Battle: Los Angeles). It was a very good movie, but stumbled just enough to fall shy of greatness. His follow-up, Source Code is analytically identical. It comes so close, but thanks in large part to a miscalculated ending, Jones again finds himself just out of reach of achieving something special.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot for the US Army. One day, he inexplicably wakes up on a train sitting across from Christina, played by Michelle Monaghan. He doesn’t know how he got there and is confused that this woman sitting across from him, whom he has never met, is addressing him as Sean. As he attempts to explain to her that he isn’t who she thinks he is, a bomb goes off on the train. Suddenly, he wakes up in a capsule with a video monitor of Sergeant Carol Goodwin, played by Vera Farmiga, who begins to talk to him about the events on the train. Although he doesn’t know how he became involved, he learns that he is a participant in the government’s newest technology, dubbed the Source Code, which allows him to relive through somebody else’s eyes the last eight minutes of their life. His actions in the Source Code don’t change the course of time or the outcome of the event, but if Stevens can find the bomb and figure out who planted it, he may be able to stop further disasters from happening.
Source Code is a movie with its pieces scattered everywhere and intentionally so. Things are purposely vague at first, but as the movie begins to repeat itself, changing little things each time, the puzzle starts to come together. Stevens lives through the same eight minutes each time and as he does, so do you. Like him, you’ll memorize how events will play out in different scenarios and, rather than simply watch him solve the mystery, you’ll become an active sleuth yourself. It almost becomes a game of who can figure it out first, the viewer or the character in the movie?
In these ways, Source Code works the brain, but it doesn’t forget the more visceral senses either and delivers a healthy dose of excitement and action amidst the thought provoking subject matter. Although you eventually become numb to the explosion that inevitably occurs every time you’re on-board that train, it’s the events leading up to it that manage to keep your adrenaline rushing. Because he is told he cannot manipulate the space time continuum and nothing he does to these already deceased people has any consequence, it allows him to do and act as he pleases, which includes holding passengers up at gunpoint and breaking into areas he otherwise wouldn’t go.
Unfortunately, Source Code shoots itself in the foot as the conclusion rolls around. Without giving anything away, it should have ended five minutes sooner, but it instead opts to give audiences the easy ending rather than the tough one. This epilogue goes against the very essence of the film and effectively ruins its chances of garnering any end of the year awards.
Other problems persist, like the underdeveloped romance between Stevens and Christina, but Source Code is nevertheless intricate, tight and, most importantly, not confusing (as long as you’re paying attention, that is). It delivers everything you could ask for in a thriller and refuses to dumb down its subject matter for an audience that would rather be spoon-fed everything. And for that, I commend it.
Source Code receives 4/5