Groundhog Day with a thrilling Sci-Fi spin from the visionary director of Moon.
When his debut film Moon was released in 2009, Duncan Jones immediately stepped out of the rather foreboding shadow of his father David Bowie. Such was the impact of Jones’ film that he instantly became one of the directors to watch. So much so that Jake Gyllenhaal actively sought him out to take the reigns of his sci-fi project Source Code. Going into your sophomore film is never easy, especially if your first film was brilliant. Thankfully Jones proves that Moon was not a fluke and he is certainly no flash in the pan.
Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes on a train to find himself in another man’s body. As he tries to understand what happens he meets his flirtycompanion Christina (Monaghan) before the train explodes in a terrifying ball of flames. Coming to Colter finds himself in a military grade pod and informed by his superior officer, Goodwin (Farmiga), he is within the Source Code which allows him to re-live the last eight minutes of another man’s life. His mission is to re-live the last moments of the train and to discover who is responsible before the same bomber strikes again in Chicago.
Throughout the film there is an ongoing mystery as to where Colter is. He is stuck in a pod but is unable to get out. Furthermore, he is told that Source Codeis not time travel but time re-assignment and yet he seems to be able to effect events that, in theory, have happened in the past. We are reliably informed that the passengers on the train are dead, they were killed in the blast that morning and Colter is simply able to delve back into those final eight minutes.
Suffice to say this is idea lead science fiction that never feels the need to spoon feed you key bits of information. Instead the script gradually drip-feeds you clues, allowing you to unravel the mystery in your own time and with your own interpretations.
Seeing the same eight minutes of an event over and over again could easily become tedious but in Duncan Jones’ hands it instead becomes ever more inventive. As Colter is able to change the course of events that lead up to the explosion, Jones finds subtle ways to place emphasis on different aspects of the journey. So one flash-back might be all about thrills, the next about gradual detection and then a romantic interaction with Christina.
With an estimated budget of $32 Million this is definitely at the lower end of sci-fi films, yet it never feels that way. On the contrary Jones brings a vastly cinematic event to life. The way we glide in and around the train as it travels towards its inevitable fate, or the way Jones quietly manipulates the size of the pod Colter resides in makes for all the more intrigue to be invested. Crucially though it never becomes heavy handed and finds moments of genuine humour to alleviate the more dramatic moments.
We are just as in the dark as Colter and because of this learn with him. It is here that much of the fun of the film is able to convey, as Colter begins to know the exact moments when things are going to happen. Able to tell Christina not to answer the phone, before it has rung, as it’s only her ex-boyfriend calling or telling a female commuter to be care before she spills her coffee. It is here that the obvious comparisons to Groundhog Day (1993) occur but rather than shy from these it warmly embraces them.
Michelle Monaghan brings a lovely sense of breezy romance to the affair. Rarely aware of the danger Colter is trying to diffuse, her fluctuating attitude towards the ever-shifting Colter is a cute highlight. Farmiga meanwhile continues to be on of Hollywood’s most reliable supporting actress bringing gravitas and heart to what could easily be cold andcalculating role. However, it is Jake Gyllenhaal who carries the film. Slightly stepping away from his boyish good looks, by sporting a crew-cut and rugged stubble, he perfectly balances the various shifts in tone the film goes through. In fact much of the fun of the film comes from Gyllenhaal’s cheeky reaction to various things. In one instance a square off against a ticking bomb makes for fun viewing.
Source Code is the kind of film that should, and almost certainly will, find an audience on the home formats. It demands repeat viewing to pick up on all the little nods and winks that can help you unravel the plot. Michael Bay can keep his fighting robots, as long as there are inventive and original filmmakers like Duncan Jones working then cinema is in very safe hands.