Much like Duncan Jones’ freshman endeavor, Moon, a film that was eclipsed (pun intended) at first, but which then skyrocketed to unprecedented levels of success during award season, Source Code is a cerebral thriller that takes an unorthodox approach to popcorn cinema. The similarities don’t end there, however; although both films were penned by different screenwriters — Nathan Parker, who authored Duncan’s debut, and Ben Ripley, the mind behind the director’s latest — it is evident why Jones decided to helm both films, namely the protagonists and the situations under which they are placed.
In Moon, Rockwell’s character, Sam Bell wakes up in a confused state before wandering around an isolated space station, slowly uncovering a conspiracy. This parallels Source Code, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens, a soldier that regains consciousness in the belly of a small, metallic chamber, prior to being contacted by Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), a fellow trooper and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), a scientist who details Stevens’ role in a new experiment called the “Source Code.” It is explained that it is a complex instrument that allows for time travel (though Rutledge quickly dismisses the phrase, instead calling it “time readjustment”) by tapping into postmortem memories and parallel universes. The catch being that each trip only lasts eight minutes, after which Colter is booted back to the start-point.
But it isn’t fun and games for the air force pilot-turned-test subject, who is volunteered in the system’s first run; his mission is to intercept and find a terrorist, who has hidden a live bomb inside a Chicago-bound commuter train that caused an explosion that killed everyone on board, including Sean, the man whose body Colter borrows for the task — all to prevent a second, more powerful attack on the city. Through a series of trial-and-error, he becomes infatuated with a woman, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who he wakes up next to during each excursion.
Because the film is built around a single scenario, the writing process, although important, was not the hardest part of production. Instead it was on Jones’ direction to find idiosyncratic shots and editing for each trip to ensure Source Code did not become monotonous. Fortunately, the director pulls through; despite the fact that Gyllenhaal and company must act out the same events repeatedly and Colter is stuck inside the train. By making the train something akin to Paradora’s box — full of passages and passengers, nooks and crannies — Jones and Ripley always find inventive ways of fleshing out the film’s restricted setting. In addition, the director utilizes the power of an opening scene with an aerial shot of a bustling Chicago, thus showing the audience exactly what is at stake for Colter.
That’s not to downplay the success of the writing though. Source Code remains consistent throughout (save for its conclusion, an oversaturated mess that could have been avoided simply by ending a couple minutes early). It maintains a head of steam, continuously keeping members on the edge while remaining emotionally engaging — a feat that couldn’t have been possible without the always charming performance by Gyllenhaal, who plays especially nice with Monaghan, whose cutesiness makes for a likeable love-interest. However, another weak link is Wright, who doesn’t mix well with his character’s asinine personality.
Regardless, Jones has struck gold once more, with a film that proves that smart actioners are not yet dead. Ushering in summer a tad early, Source Code is the year’s first blockbuster that you should definitely run out and see.