Source Code


Written by Georgie Hobbs
21 Monday 21st March 2011

Duncan Jones has followed his much-lauded art house debut Moon with a mind-bending love story set in an impossible reality. The film honours Jones’ high-brow fan-base and is, in essence, a high concept mash-up of string theory, particle physics and special effects. Non-PhD grads have nothing to fear though, it’s eminently possible to switch off your brain and watch a classy genre thriller – Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap, say. Or, an urban Avatar on a smaller budget. Only slushier.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on a train. After eight minutes, he, along with the rest of the carriage, is blown up thanks to a terrorist’s bomb triggered moments before. After the eighth minute, he’s zapped into a confusing dialogue with Sergeant Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who, based in an Army Control Room somewhere, refuses to clarify much before sending him hurtling back onto the train or ‘source code’. Back on board a confused Stevens re-lives a sequence that plays homage to the Chicago-bound train where ad exec Kaplan (Cary Grant) met Eve Kendell (Eva Marie Saint) in North By Northwest. He wakes up opposite a pretty girl (Michelle Monaghan) who believes they are friends, then meets, and quickly (re)assesses, all the other commuters before the terrorist triggers the bomb again. Then it’s back to the Control Room. Then it all starts again. Repeat.

So, it’s all a bit like torture really. Stevens has to re-live the same horrific moments on Goodwin’s promise that a) it’ll end as soon as he completes his mission and b) he’ll be allowed to call his dad. Goodwin also threatens him morally – if he doesn’t keep jumping into those looped last minutes, Chicago will go up in smoke. The train bomber is heading there next and the clues to stop him lie in the 'source code'.

With all that pressure, you can’t blame Stevens when he develops a sort of Stockholm Syndrome crush on the only woman on the carriage. Christine is girl-next-door dull – even Colter isn’t interested at the start but, by the finale, whacked out of his brains on insane movie-physics, it’s love. A romance at first sidelined for balls-out genre-fun (less whodunit than who-is-doing-what-to-whom-when-and-where? Or: Where exactly is Captain Colter Stevens and why does he keep getting blown up?) is eventually shoved to the fore in a final act that’s schmaltz-heavy.

While the characters and dialogue are forgettable, the plot holes invite geeky unpicking (as is de rigeur for most time travel films, including his breakthrough, Donnie Darko). And that may well be the enduring appeal for Jones’ fans; the sheer Quantum Mechanics of it all encourages endless philosophical debate after the credits close. At a tight 93 minutes (the narrative structure really couldn’t endure a longer cut), it’s a feel-good cerebral thriller ripe for post-cinema pub chat.

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