DVD Review: In the high-thrills, mind-twisting Source Code, Moon director Duncan Jones continues to show his gut for sci-fi storytelling, head for trippy existentialism, and heart for exploring the human condition. And Jake Gyllenhaal reminds us why he’s one of our most intriguing leading men.
With mind-bending DNA borrowed from 12 Monkeys, Groundhog Day, Quantum Leap and Johnny Got His Gun, the sci-fi action thriller Source Code follows Jake Gyllenhaal as modern-day soldier Colter Stevens (good, strong name, that). Working with an experimental military science lab, Stevens is sent back in time over and over again into the last eight minutes of memories in the mind of a stranger who died in a recent terrorist bombing on a commuter train.
Those eight minutes of quantum existence are called the “source code,” and Stevens (in the dead commuter’s body) is repeatedly trying to use these leaps to find out who the bomber is and where he or she plans to carry out a another attack, so that in the “real-time” “present day” the authorities can locate and disarm a second, more devastating bomb.
Each jump back in time unpeels more clues for Stevens, but of course in the best Hitchcockian tradition, this is a train chock full of red herrings. Plus, each source-code sequence is punctuated by a deadly explosion–just to keep viewers’ nerves nice and on edge.
On the train Stevens meets Christina (Michelle Monaghan), an innocent commuter in the “source code” past with whom the soldier begins to develop an emotional connection—one that could threaten his mission (not to mention quantum physics and the space-time continuum) if he values saving Christina’s life over finding the second bomb. That puts our hero at odds with his “real-time” superiors: Vera Farmiga as a military handler and the great Jeffrey Wright as the eccentric, somewhat menacing source-code scientist.
If all this makes Source Code sound like heady, confusing, sci-fi techno-goop, don’t worry—it’s not. Director Duncan Jones (Moon) and screenwriter Ben Ripley make sure the scientific whatsits serve the entertainment and story goals—as well as larger questions about Fate, morality, and mortality—not the other way around. Nor does it hurt that–like the Train of Doom Stevens keeps quantum-leaping into–Source Code is designed to barrel ahead at full speed (even when sliced into eight-minute segments), its suspenseful momentum carrying it over plot and logic holes.
In all this the film is aided by a solid cast. Monaghan, Farmiga, and Wright are all very good, but the VIP is Gyllenhaal. In the decade since Donnie Darko, the actor has perfected his mix of wide-eyed, glaring confusion with goofy, likable charm, whether it’s in service of action or drama. In the past year Gyllenhaal’s proven his big-screen, big-star versatility in projects as diverse as Brothers, Prince of Persia, and Love & Other Drugs, but in Source Code he gets back to his oddball (dis)comfort zone: The man out of time, the haunted outsider struggling to escape isolation and connect with other humans.
Source Code is a smart thriller, but Jones’ full Moon potential remains unexplored. For all its quantum-metaphysical musings, Source Code struggles at times to find an emotion center–it’s tricky to care about a train of people we know are already dead, and the out-of-sync ending betrays the film’s more compelling themes.
But overall Source Code works fine as a white-knuckle, puzzle-box mystery, giving Jones a place alongside Christopher Nolan (Inception) and Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), and giving Gyllenhaal an even brighter spot in the movie-star firmament. Best of all, sharp genre filmmaking like Source Code gives us moviegoers entertainment that only hurts our heads in the most enjoyable ways.
Source Code is available on DVD and Blu-ray from redbox.
More from the cast of Source Code at redbox:
- Jake Gyllenhaal in Love & Other Drugs and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (on DVD and Blu-ray)
- Michele Monaghan in Due Date and Somewhere
More science-fiction mind trips from redbox: