Duncan Jones’ follow-up to Moon exceeds sci-fi expectations
Source Code has surprising charm, and a quiet and powerful appeal, in what is ostensibly a noisy and frenetic tale.
What you almost certainly know in advance about this movie—sci-fi, Jake Gyllenhaal, time travel, big explosion—is really only part of the picture. In the actual event, you get all that and good deal more.
It’s not so much science fiction as a kind of techno-humanistic fantasy, with some epic romance laid seamlessly within. As more than one observer has already noted, it’s sort of Groundhog Day reset in the trappings of high-tech adventure. By the same token, it’s also a contemporary movie variation on the classic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The film’s central sci-fi/fantasy gimmick has a U.S. Army helicopter pilot (Gyllenhaal) caught up in some futuristic technology that allows government scientists to put him inside the mind and body of someone else. In this particular scheme of things, he’s sent inside the last eight minutes in the life of a man aboard a train that is about to be blown up by a terrorist’s bomb.
He must make repeat visits to those eight minutes as he tries to find the bomb and identify the bomber, who has promised that there are more and bigger explosions soon to come. That, of course, creates some very urgent suspense, but Source Code has much more than that in mind.
In the course of these subtly evolving repeat visits, Gyllenhaal’s Capt. Colter Stevens also begins to get emotionally involved with Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the quietly adventurous young woman seated across from him on that train, while also launching a more private but no less urgent personal quest—how did he get from the war in Afghanistan and into this mind-boggling mission, and what is he to the military officer (Vera Farmiga) and the vaguely menacing scientist (Jeffrey Wright) who are overseeing his time-travel activities?
Director Duncan Jones (Moon) and screenwriter Ben Ripley keep at least three major narrative threads crackling with life over a compact, fast-paced 93 minutes of running time. The time-traveler’s zig-zag romance with Christina gains unexpected momentum late in the action, and Major Colleen Goodwin (Farmiga), literally the “human face” for the story’s improbable military technology, becomes a key figure in the benign sort of romantic triangle that emerges, fleetingly, toward the finish.
Gyllenhaal does good credible work as a character who is both very resourceful and slightly (not to mention literally) out of his mind. Monaghan serves well as the ready-for-anything Christina, and Farmiga makes a nicely nuanced character out of a role seen almost exclusively in close-up.
Wright skulks, as his role requires, and leans on a metal cane that is perhaps meant to suggest that he might be this film’s Dr. Strangelove.