Director: Duncan Jones
Screenplay: Ben Ripley
Producers: Mark Gordon, Philippe Rousselet, Jordan Wynn
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
Year: 2011
Country: Canada, France, USA
Duration: 93 min
BBFC Certification: 12A

What if you could travel into the last eight minutes – but only the last eight minutes - of a man’s life over and over in order to work out who bombed a busy train, and then use that information to prevent a second bomb in reality?

That’s the Groundhog Day/Quantum Leap pick and mix premise of Source Code (screenplay by Ben Ripley, Species III), Duncan Jones’s second project as director-for-hire after his isolated sci-fi tense-fest Moon (2009).

The end result? Well… it’s all relative…

Plot-wise, Captain Colter Stephens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes on the train, confused at the closeness of the woman opposite (Michelle Monaghan) who keeps calling him Shaun. He escapes to the bathroom to see he is Shaun (he doesn’t say “Oh Boy,” but there are deliberate nods to Quantum Leap) and then the train… explodes in a Chicago suburb. Waking in a strange dark capsule, Colter is instructed by his military supervisor (Vera Farmiga - Up In The Air) to find the bomber and try again. Initially confused, as he gets the idea of his task he tries different ways of finding the culprit and preventing the bomb in each eight minutes, all the while worrying about how he got into the mysterious “Source Code” program in the first place.

As it turns out, traveling back and forth into the same eight minutes gets… a little repetitive. Who’d have thought, eh? Well, not me, but the issue isn’t the gimmick, it’s the fact that we don’t really scratch beneath the surface of any of the other passengers, and the “whodunit/howdunnit” puzzle becomes more of a guessing game of trial and error, and a fairly obvious one at that. The train story is an okay ride, but it doesn’t really have the look-in-detail depth.

Secondly, while we are told there is an urgent need to solve this problem and prevent a second bomb, we have no real idea of how much time every “eight minutes” takes up in reality. The result of this is that the sense of urgency is lost, and this storyline is taken up with Colter worrying about the nature of the program itself and challenging the powers-that-be.

By the end you can see the ideas it’s getting at, but it feels a bit tacked on and the (tricky) balance not quite there –each storyline doesn’t quite have the oomph to make you itch for what happens next, and it plays out with little anticipation.

It ends up neither a big concept “whammo” nor a crunchy character piece.

Being harsh, I’d say it’s a little one-paced and doesn’t really break new ground.

Being friendly, I’d say it’s a good thriller with aims for a bigger picture. There are also nice touches, in particular between Gyllenhall and his female co-stars and from Source Code creator Jeffrey Wright.

Ultimately Duncan Jones comes out with a “safe pair of hands” reputation in development, but I can’t help wonder if some of by-the-numbers elements in Source Code betray the fact that it was more of a bridging vehicle for Jones, storing up for his passion project Mute…

Solid, but not spectacular. Probably a rent / buy cheap on DVD.

Review by Jonathan Guyett

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3 Responses

  1. David Brook

    In our podcast Darren took a similar stance to you on the fact that there was little at stake – not enough drama, but for me that didn’t cause a problem. I was just hooked on the unfolding narrative, I always wanted to know what happened next and found it incredibly engrossing.

    I thought there was a lot to take from the film too. It didn’t really go fully in depth into any of it’s ideas, but I kind of liked that instead it sowed the seeds of quite a few interesting concepts and theories that I could mull over afterwards (the alternate reality stuff, the role of soldiers in war etc.).

    My only real problem (other than Jeffrey Wright’s hammy performance) as I mentioned in the Film For Thought Post, was with the ending – I felt it was very schmaltzy and the final ‘twist’, although mildly interesting in concept, felt like an excuse for a ‘happy’ ending.

    Reply
  2. Jon Guyett

    re: ending and deepness yeah I think I agree. It had good ambition, the issue for me was I think it was trying to be deeper than it actually was, making the ending feel like a schmaltzy tack on as you say. I found it a tricky one to call – there was a lot to like, but as it tried to be… more… and didn’t quite hit, it knocked it down a bit for me. If it had followed through or not even tried I think I’d have preferred it.

    Looking back I think it was better than Limitless, but at least Limitless knew it was thin and didn’t try too hard to be otherwise! Think that raised Limitless up half and notch and SC down half – but will be interesting to see what I think if I ever watch them again (SC much more likely to get a second view i think).

    Reply

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