Source Code (2011)

Director:  Duncan Jones
Cast:  Jake GyllenhaalMichelle MonaghanVera Farmiga
Plot:  An action thriller centered on a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he's part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.

Genre:  Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  PG for some violence including disturbing images, and for language.

From the director of Moon (2009), one of the most thought-provoking science-fiction films to hit the screen in the last decade, Source Code is a taut, tightly-paced mystery-thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock’s Strangers on the Train (1951) and North by Northwest (1959) – note the wide landscape shots at the start – but has its premise rooted in alternate reality, a sci-fi concept that continues to baffle even the most seasoned fan of the genre. 

Proving that Moon’s critical success was no fluke, director Duncan Jones imbues in Source Code, a film that is intended to attract a significantly larger audience, with a rare sense of intellect, and blends it with surprisingly honest human drama.  Not every film can boast the ability to connect both mind and heart with near equal satisfaction, but Source Code does it quite brilliantly. 

Jones’ film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Cpt. Colter Stevens, who used to be part of the U.S. army fighting the war in Afghanistan, but now finds himself in the bizarre circumstance of having to inhabit another person’s body in a speeding train in order to find a terrorist before he blows up a series of bombs.  And like every suspenseful thriller, there is a deadline: Stevens has only eight minutes to save the day. 

Despite the deceptively simple premise, writer Ben Ripley creates a story that becomes increasingly complicated, but it is never disorienting as viewers will be only as confused as Stevens, whose struggle to piece the mystery of his existence becomes more illuminating as time passes.  Like Moon, Source Code explores themes of memory, identity, and isolation.  And like Inception (2010), the film alternates between “realities”. 

In one “reality”, Stevens finds himself alone in a space capsule of sorts, with the scenes’ visual design reminiscent that of the moving rover in Moon.  Mental isolation is also a key theme in both films.  Source Code, however, could have been a more emotionally potent film if its last ten minutes were not included in the final cut. The film should rightly have ended in the manner of The 400 Blows (1959) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – that is, with a freeze frame. That would certainly have retained and encapsulated the emotional impact and cinematic brilliance of this soon-to-be sci-fi cult classic. 

Gyllenhaal’s performance is excellent for a thriller of this nature as he communicates anxiety and confusion with aplomb.  There is also so much more to his character than what usually typifies a conventional action hero, with a strong emphasis on his back story.  Drawing deeper into Source Code, I feel that by using Stevens as an example, the film not only raises ethical issues, but also serves as an indirect criticism against the U.S. government/military’s hardball tactics to coerce detained (but possibly innocent) suspects to provide them with vital information to nab terrorists.

In a nutshell, Duncan Jones has fashioned a fascinating sci-fi mystery-thriller set in the real world of today that should give moviegoers an experience to savor.  Exciting and clever, Source Code is one film that you should not miss.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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