Directed by Duncan Jones, Written by Ben Ripley, 93 minutes, Rated PG-13
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Duncan Jones’ “Source Code” is one of the spoils of living in a post-“Inception” society. With original and smart sci-fi a viable commodity, films like this one can exist without precaution, franchises, or source materials. Jones builds a well-paced and structured sci-fi thriller that’s as complex as it is clear-headed.
But amidst the time travel, alternate realities, and quantum physics, Jones and star Jake Gyllenhaal offer enough fun cinematic surprises and dramatic turns to keep your eyes locked to the screen and your mind away from its messy science.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes on a speeding train a new man, literally, as the woman across from him identifies him as Sean Fentress, school teacher. Confused, Stevens makes a mad dash for the bathroom, observing his fellow passengers in a haze, when suddenly, the train explodes.
Stevens reawakes in a cold, desolate pod, with a voice on a screen asking him for the bomber’s name. After some debriefing, he is reminded of his mission--travel eight-minutes into the past and find the train’s bomber, before the culprit can strike again.
“Source Code”’s Philip K. Dick influenced plot keeps things complicated not confusing. Ben Ripley’s script layers on the genre tropes without the heavy science, allowing it to move like a speeding train without stopping for extended exposition. It builds to dramatic shocks, which causes the science to fall apart by the third act. But much like Christopher Nolan’s dream machine in “Inception,” the details are secondary to the ideas.
Jones realizes this brilliantly, constructing a film around shifts in perception through repetition. He transports us to the same place and time again and again, and as Colter becomes more aware of his surroundings, the more emotional his journey becomes, setting “Source Code” apart from the cold, sterility of most sci-fi.
Gyllenhaal carries the film’s existential weight as the man in the bubble and the man in another’s body, acting with compassion and a little bit of fun. And the star, who usually rests on his confused disposition, is perfectly suited for the mission. Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga offer similarly human and confident performances. Gyllenhaal may ask the questions, but they give the answers.
Duncan Jones proved himself a directorial heavyweight with “Source Code.” As he transports his indie tendencies (namely, respecting the audience enough to give them a meaty plot), Jones offers a film that is altogether intelligent and entertaining. With theaters still reaming with remakes and sequels, it’s a welcome change of pace.