I’ve had my eye on Duncan Jones for a while now. Ever since his stunning debut Moon, I knew that this was a director to watch out for. His second film, Source Code, arrives on Blu-Ray this week and is just as impressive as Moon. It’s a smart and stylish sci-fi thriller that not only impressed me greatly, but reminded me why I’ve been keeping a careful watch on Mr. Jones’ career. Moon was a daunting act to follow but Jones has succeeded on all counts with Source Code.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Colter Stevens, an army helicopter pilot. As the film begins, Stevens wakes up on a train, with no recollection of how he got there. Sitting across from him is Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who seems to know who he is, despite Stevens having never seen her before. As he tries to figure out how he got on the train, he discovers that he’s not in his own body. While looking in the mirror, the image staring back at him isn’t that of Colter Stevens. Christina confirms this when she starts calling him Sean Fentress. Utterly confused, Stevens tries to figure out what’s going on when all of the sudden, a bomb goes off, killing everyone on board.
Stevens wakes up in a pod with a television screen in front of him. On the screen is Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), an Air Force Captain. Goodwin informs Stevens that he’s in a program called the source code. The program allows Stevens to take over someone’s body for the last eight minutes of their life. Turns out, Sean Fentress died on that train earlier in the day and the military is using the source code to send Stevens back into Fentress’ body for the last eight minutes before the train blew up.
Stevens is still confused and doesn’t exactly remember why or how he ended up in the source code but he goes along with it. His mission is to enter Fentress’ body, find the bomb and discover who planted/denoated it. Apparently, the bomber is planning another attack and Goodwin needs Stevens to find the bomber ASAP before he strikes again.
The Air Force Captain also makes one rule very clear to Stevens. By entering Fentress’ body, he’s not going into the past. Instead, he’s entering an alternate reality. This means that no matter what he does, he can’t alter the past in anyway and thus, can’t save any of the passengers. Everyone who is dead will remain that way, no matter what he does. His objective is just to gather intel in hopes of stopping the next bombing. Before he can squeeze anymore info out of Goodwin, Colter is thrust back into the alternate reality and wakes up once again on the train as Sean Fentress.
Throughout the film, Colter Stevens is sent back into this alternate reality eight times. The majority of the film is made up of these “trips” and each one is a little different than the last. After each trip, Stevens returns to the pod and is briefed by Goodwin, before heading back into the alternate reality. This may sound like it would get redundant but actually, it works out really well.
Each time Colter only has eight minutes to find the bomber and each “trip” is intense and exciting. As he gains more and more intel, he gets closer to the bomber. It’s a clever concept that is executed perfectly in the film. And it’s impressive because it could have failed. Admittedly, I was hesitant at first but they really pull it off well and each trip is unique and enjoyable to watch.
The “trips” are just one part of the film though. There’s something larger at hand here, another storyline of sorts that is just as interesting. To reveal it would spoil a fantastic twist but just know, there’s more going on here than what you see on the surface and the secondary storyline that underlines everything gives the film its emotional punch, which is both effective and poignant.
You see, Source Code functions on two levels. On one hand, it’s a gripping and suspenseful sci-fi thriller, but there’s another level. Aside from the search for the bomber, there’s something more at play here and it’s equally, if not more compelling than the main storyline.
I don’t want to spoil it but let’s just say that as we start to realize how and why Colter ended up in the source code program, the film adds another layer, one which gives it heart and depth. This is more than just a thriller and by the end, we’re asked some tough existential questions that will really have you thinking. This is a film that has both heart and smarts.
And that is really what makes the film so refreshing, the humanist take that is presented here. It’s that extra layer of depth that really sets this one apart. Most thrillers don’t have this element to them and it’s great to see a thriller that can finally connect emotionally. The best part is, you’re not really expecting it and when it hits, it hits hard.
The fact that Colter is also an unreliable narrator makes the film more engaging. We feel just as lost as him since we only know what he knows (and what he knows may not even be 100% accurate). The fact that we only know just as much as him also helps us to identify more with him and feel for his situation. We’re always on the edge of our seat, never knowing when a twist could occur. And trust me, there are quite a few well thought out twists and turns here.
It’s clear that Source Code was made with great skill and craft and Jones’ direction shines through in every scene. He keeps the film moving at a feverish pace, never leaving us bored or lost in the scientific mumbo jumbo. Clues are dropped along the way for the more observant of viewers as Jones makes sure that everything is laid out clear and in an uncomplicated manner, making sure no viewer is lost. He has a deft handle on the material and he offers up a brilliantly constructed film.
Performances also stand out in the film. Vera Farmiga does her best HAL-9000 and brings some true emotion to her scenes with Gyllenhaal, Jeffrey Wright does a wonderful yet hammy job as Rutledge, a mad scientist who created the source code program and Michelle Monaghan brings a real human element to the drama, matching her co-star Jake Gyllenhaal every step of the way.
Speaking of Mr. Gyllenhaal, he’s the real star here. He gives Colter Stevens an everyman likeability while turning him into a credible hero and someone that we want to root for. He shows great range as he deals not only with the bomber but also has to struggle with deeper issues that cause him to question a number of things about himself. He shows great rapport with Monaghan and his scenes with Farmiga are rather endearing. It really is a great performance from him and one of his most enjoyable in a while.
The actual science behind the film is a bit too out there and outrageous but it’s so fascinating and the story is so gripping that as an audience, we’re willing to go along with it. Source Code works on both levels so perfectly that it’s hard not to be completely enthralled by it. A couple cliched moments and an unsatisfying conclusion to one of the plotlines slow things down a bit but these are very minor issues in what is otherwise, an excellent film. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen all year and for anyone looking for a unique, inventive and smart thriller with a compelling human element to it, check this one out.
Summit Entertainment brings Source Code to Blu-Ray and it’s a must buy package.
On video, the film dazzles with Jones’ flashy and stylish direction coming off wonderfully. Strong detail, especially in faces and natural colours are found in every shot. It’s a sharp image that shows off its rich textures and perfect blacks. Skintones aren’t always the greatest but that’s only a small complaint for the otherwise near-demo worthy transfer.
The audio track engulfs audiences with Chris P. Bacon’s fierce and agressive score and some really potent effects. Highlights include the explosion scenes, where the sound of the blast fills the room as we hear the metal on the train twisting and tearing apart. The dialogue heavy track rarely, if ever, falters and even the more nuanced sounds are delivered perfectly.
Special features aren’t plentiful but what we get isn’t awful. First, we have a commentary from Director Duncan Jones, Actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and Writer Ben Ripley. It’s an enjoyable yet pretty standard listen. They discuss exactly what you’d expect but they’re all good talkers and entertaining to listen to. Second, is a picture in picture feature. Interview and trivia bits fill the track and while it’s not terribly in depth, it’s still a welcome addition. That being said, I really would have liked to have seen something a bit more extensive.
Overall, you really can’t go wrong with this package. It’s a fantastic Blu-Ray, in every area and one that I’m thrilled to have in my collection. Source Code is another stunning effort from Duncan Jones and it will undoubtedly open up many doors for him. He’s already found himself on the shortlist for some very high profile projects and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds himself at the helm of some very big films within the coming years. Source Code stands as one of 2011’s best films thus far and and I can’t wait to see what the Jones does next.
Source Code is one of the best movies I've seen all year and for anyone looking for a unique, inventive and smart thriller with a compelling human element to it, check this one out.