I really enjoyed Duncan Jones’ feature debut, the low budget, high concept sci-fi Moon. Perhaps a little too much, as I raved about it so much that I think some of my friends suspected me and Mr Jones had a thing going on (sorry). So when the chance came to see Source Code, his second offering some two years on, I naturally jumped at it.
Source code… Not the most inspiring film title… To me, mildly techie savvy, it brings to mind mundane software development and protection programs but I’m sure it sounds far fancier to the Hollywood financiers. Hell, I’d stump up cash for a Jones’ project if it was entitled “Watching Paint Dry”.
So, anyway, what is Source Code all about? Well the film kicks off with some great opening aerial shots of a cityscape, which we soon discover is Chicago, with a train hurtling towards it… And that train is loaded with a bomb.
Now you may think that I’ve thrown in a bit of a spoiler there… But fret not as this is effectively the MacGuffin of this sci-fi thriller. Our protagonist Airforce Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is sent back in time to replay the fateful last eight minutes of a terrorist train bombing, time and time again in an attempt to avert an even deadiler 2nd attack.
Unlike Back to the Future, Butterfly Effect and a dozen other time travel films, Stevens’ actions have no impact on the present day. He is told that it is a simulation rather than real ‘time’ (and here I have summed up as best I could the quantum mechanics explanation that went straight over my head), so you’ve guessed it… Groundhog Day on a train. Almost in the style of an arcade game, the repeating loop of death and regeneration allows for some nice comical moments and Stevens to smash his way through the past with complete disregard for the consequences. Although that isn’t exactly how Stevens sees it as he starts to fall for fellow commuter Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan).
Off the success of Moon, Jones has secured a bigger budget for Source Code and this bigger budget and bigger cast certainly means more frills but also some spills as he has been forced to give us more of a crowd pleaser.
The character development is lacking, but given the plot that is understandable. It is hard to build up a relationship when every eight minutes you hit rewind. Although the assembled cast has been chosen well. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of those people that you can’t fail to like, charming, intelligent, witty… traits that infuse all of the characters that he plays… and Colter Stevens is no exception. Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga (as Colleen Goodwin) are equally instantly likeable and put in good performances, but Jeffrey Wright as sinister scientist Dr. Rutledge was not so convincing.
Jones brings some of the claustrophobia that we are so use to with Moon, in fact I am beginning to suspect Mr Jones is an agoraphobic (his next feature is “watching paint dry on a plane”), and like Moon it is another intelligent film. It initially charges along at a fierce pace, however it does lose some momentum toward the end and is almost derailed entirely by a saccharine Hollywood ending… but there is just about enough puff left in it to keep it on track.
Overall an original, explosive and well humoured offering… but it didn’t quite do enough to blow me away entirely… If only they had been braver with the ending then this could have been a truly great film. But hey Mr Jones, I’m still a fan.
Source Code is in cinemas 1st April 2011.
Director: Duncan Jones
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Runtime: 93 min
Country: USA, France