With the impressive Moon as his directorial debut, expectations for Duncan Jones’ next foray into film have been understandably high. Fortunately, for both Jones and his fans, Source Code delivers as an intelligent high-concept thriller, following the trend started by Inception and The Adjustment Bureau.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a US Army helicopter pilot, wakes suddenly on a train; he has no recollection of where he is, and no knowledge of the people that supposedly know him. It quickly transpires that Stevens has seemingly inhabited another man’s body. After eight minutes of stumbling around, scaring his passengers as he desperately attempts to ascertain what is taking place, the train he is on explodes.
Waking in a capsule, Stevens is gradually informed via an external link that he has been placed inside the ‘Source Code’, a programme that places him inside the body during the last eight minutes of a person’s life; in this case the body of school teacher, Sean Fentress. Stevens is instructed by Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), his primary link into understanding the situation, that the explosion he just experienced was only the first. Goodwin informs him that they have gained information of a more serious bomb threat that is scheduled to take place hours after the first, these eight minutes on the train are thus crucial in catching the bomber before the more serious bomb threat is later unleashed.
Stevens is repeatedly sent back, each time having only eight minutes in which he has to gather as much information as possible in order to prevent the deaths of millions. Each time Stevens is sent back he awakens opposite Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a friend and potential love interest of Sean’s. During these eight minutes, Stevens swiftly begins to care for Christina, desiring her survival, despite being informed that the ‘Source Code’ is not a time travel device, it cannot change the future.
The repetition of essentially the same scene could have quickly become tiresome in the hands of a less talented director; here Jones’ direction is tightly-paced and engaging, ensuring that each eight-minute segment remains as immersive as the previous. The limited time Stevens is afforded adds a very real sense of intensity to the scenes, made ever tense with the addition of a relatable protagonist.
The cast is flawless: Gyllenhaal is particularly engaging, his Stevens, despite his military background, is very much an every-man, often blundering around, blindly accusing passengers on the train as his desperation grows. Vera Farmiga, too, despite the obvious limitations of her role, predominantly being seen on a computer screen, adds both depth and warmth to a character that could have easily been one-dimensional. Michelle Monaghan too, as the romantic interest, not only convinces as a genuine love interest for Stevens, but helps to cement Stevens’ desire to save those on board.
This subtle central romance is beautifully realised, simply developed yet entirely believable, ensuring the viewer engages with the two, helps the films central conceit; the viewer needs to care about the outcome for the film’s admittedly high-concept plot to succeed.
Source Code, whilst entertaining on a basic level, is wonderfully profound at times. Unfortunately this profundity is slightly undermined by an extended ending that is completely unnecessary, but this is not to dissuade the viewer. Source Code is a wonderful film, increasing Duncan Jones’ already impressive CV.