Source Code is BAFTA Award-winning director Duncan Jones’ follow-up to the critically acclaimed Moon and sees him tackling the big-budget Hollywood action genre.
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a former soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man. Over time Colter discovers he’s part of an experimental government program, and on a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train: a mission that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last eight minutes of his life.
Colter relives the incident time and again until he can find the bomber and prevent further acts of terrorism. During his mission, he learns increasingly more about the Source Code from his Commanding Officer, Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), and develops a relationship with fellow train passenger Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan).
There’s an impressive swift-paced lightness to Ben Ripley’s script, in that it never gets bogged down in the scientific explanations of Colter’s circumstances or the serious issues the film poses – specifically about loss of identity and terrorism – instead choosing to challenge the audience with remarkable twists and proclamations.
Quite simply, it’s a fast-paced, refreshingly smart and well-written sci-fi thriller. It has the coercion and credible nature needed to lure you into the world and take you on an absorbing journey, one without any superfluous ridiculousness.
Jones directs with terrific urgency, devouring the script and delivering a remarkably taut, immersive thrill ride. He doesn’t spare a single moment of its lean duration, and there are several moments in particular that are refined with startling poise.
He paints the city of Chicago in a wonderfully natural, luminescence. This is something which has a particularly striking effect in the closing scenes of the film.
The train disaster, though repeated multiple times, never loses its visceral and exciting intensity. It is truly incredible to see Jones finding new ways to add visual touches to limited, low-budget and theoretically repetitive action scenes.
Gyllenhaal is superb as Stevens, delivering a zealous, courageous, and vulnerable performance as a man thrown time-after-time into the same peculiar situation, driven only by his desire to communicate with his estranged father, to be a loyal soldier and to save Christina.
He shares a genuine, passionate spark with Monaghan, making the romance between their characters, Colter and Christina, entirely believable despite its complicated circumstances.
Monaghan, in arguably the most challenging supporting role, brings a fresh and appealing disposition to Christina. It works wonders for a character who suffers from being a romantic interest, and whose existence is limited to eight repetitive minutes. Through each 8 minute segment Christina’s personality is opened up more and more, and Monaghan is the perfect actress to bring humility and warmth to the woman Colter strives to save.
Farmiga makes so much of her compact part, slowly unveiling Goodwin’s warmth and humanity. Jeffrey Wright also pulls off the contrasting role of Rutledge: the uneasy, ambitious and often callous inventor of the Source Code experiment.
Source Code doesn’t quite match the near-perfection of Moon, but it’s a wholly engaging, swiftly paced and solidly performed sci-fi thriller, confirming Jones as a unique, natural-born genre director.