Review: Source Code (2011)

Director: Duncan Jones

****

Second chances are wonderful things; you can correct your mistakes, do things you didn’t get to do first time around and generally improve your situation. Of course, second chances are usually products of chance or happenstance; they’re rarely (if ever) foisted upon a person. Officer Coulter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself forced with such a chance. He wakes up in the body of another man on board a commuter train. The pretty girl sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan) addresses Coulter as Sean Fentress, his reflection looks nothing like him and, just when things can’t get any more confusing for Coulter, a bomb blast engulfs the train, killing all on board. Credit to director Duncan Jones; he can deliver one hell of an opening to a film.

Jones’ follow-up to the cerebral and haunting Moon is proof of the promise he showed with that film. Source Code may be an explosive thriller, but it boasts a certain maturity and intelligence that similar films seem to lack, not least in its bomb attack storyline.  Stevens was actually implanted in the memory of one of the victims of the train bombing, and has access to the final eight minutes of the journey to try and discover the bomber. Under the supervision of ‘Source Code’ inventor Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) and Miss Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), Stevens is plunged back into the dream repeatedly until the bomber is found. Source Code raises questions about a soldier’s duty and the limits to which it can be pushed, and balances these ideas with enough emotion and action to create a thriller of rare scope, both a race against time and a character piece. Gyllenhaal keeps things grounded as a likeable and understandably confused everyman, whilst Monaghan and Farmiga turn potential stock love interest/exposition roles into rounded, interesting characters (though Wright is a little too “mad scientist” in his performance).

Despite having to plunge us in the same scenario repeatedly, Jones is too skilled to let this repetition become repetitive, and extracts plenty of thrills (plus a few laughs) from Ben Ripley’s script. Given the slightly dour nature of the plot, there’s a sense of excitement and adventure to this tale, with a score (by Chris Bacon) reminiscent of North By Northwest, and a gripping race against time infused with the fears of our age (A bomber on a train? They haven’t gone away, y’know).

Sci-fi, by its nature, is dependent on the suspension of disbelief.  If you can swallow the implausibility of the scenario, you should enjoy Source Code; it’s no more ridiculous than the dream sharing in Inception. Indeed, the script comes across like a blend of Inception and The Manchurian Candidate. Whilst the former seemed like a tricky plot and eventually boiled down to a simple tale, Source Code starts off with a simple-yet-interesting idea which gets a little too complicated for its own good by the last reel. Still, go with it, and Source Code is a rewarding and engaging little thriller, with enough brains to match the big bang(s) it supplies.

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