MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Duncan Jones is no longer ‘Duncan Jones son of David Bowie’ but now firmly established as a compelling science fiction director in his own right. Admittedly, starting this review by highlighting Jones’ lineage may be counter-intuitive, but it really is worth stating what a bright and smart director Jones has already become.
Following the success of his low-budget 2001-esque, one man, psychological sci-fi mind-bending debut Moon (2009), Jones returns with Source Code. Despite sticking firmly just to the directing, Source Code is a bit like Moon on speed, and it works just as well.
The film centres entirely on Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who discovers himself on a train, trapped in another man’s body, stuck in an 8 minute loop and before he can try to make sense of his situation – a bomb explodes and kills everyone on board. Stevens’ purpose is quickly unraveled with exposition that feels natural and necessary rather than forced or patronizing. The focus on a single character’s confusion concerning a situation inflicted by a mysterious scientific organization is certainly not a million miles away from Moon, whilst the time loop’s absurdity shows echoes of a science fiction Groundhog Day.
But at just 94 minutes the pace is relentless, creating a thrilling sci-fi time warp devoid of any comedic trappings. Editing is snappy. As soon as the viewer becomes accustomed to the opening segments of the time loop, the editing tightens and the intensity cranks up. The narrative plays out almost like a video game, with the player learning more and more about the level each time he fails and uses that intelligence to get further towards potentially completing his mission. But unlike a video game, Gyllenhaal gives a performance of a man really stuck in an incomprehensible situation, riddled by confusion yet performing a task with stakes that really matter.
Source Code contains not quite the narrative complexity of Inception but nevertheless the audience is asked to ‘keep up’ and become fully immersed in the pace of Stevens’ mission and the unfolding complexity of his understanding of reality. This is science fiction based on ideas, not special effects. Not all these ideas work entirely, and there is certainly a compelling case against the chosen ending. With sequels to Moon on the way it will be fascinating to see when and how Jones branches out. But while the ideas behind Moon and Source Code may be similar, the differences in pace are striking and already illustrate Jones’ flexibility. This is sci-fi that is perfectly satisfying and makes you leave the cinema thinking, talking and wanting more. And with this current trend along with Jones’ promising career, long may it continue.
Source Code is currently is cinemas throughout the UK and the USA
Review by David Rank