Good on Duncan Jones, who authored the wonderful sci-fi low budgeter Moon to quickly take on some more work. But as a director taking the paycheque, he only delivers a decent adaptation of this sci-fi recycling machine.
Source Code (2011) dir. Duncan Jones
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
By Alan Bacchus
There’s nothing particularly fresh about this film. It’s the type of brainy concept film usually born during drunken conversations in bars between unemployed filmmakers looking to make the next Memento - trust me I know from experience. But if Moon was Duncan Jones’ Memento, then Source Code is his Insomnia, Christopher Nolan’s second film. Both Source Code and Insomnia were made quickly after their first films as directors-for-hire shooting someone else’s script. Thus, for Jones, Source Code is less a showcase for his own creative vision than an insurance policy to his potential future financiers that he’s not a sophomore jinx.
The story is contrived from the concepts of 12 Monkeys, Nick of Time, 24, Snake Eyes, Deja Vu and Groundhog Day of course. Helicopter pilot Colter Stevens, who was previously stationed in Afghanistan, wakes up on a train in someone else’s body. After the train blows up from an apparent terrorist attack, he’s transported into the cockpit of his busted up copter talking to a mysterious government agent. This agent (Vera Farmiga) eventually reveals to us Colter’s new mission – exploiting the brain’s capacity to remain active for eight minutes after death in order to transmit his own brain into that of one of the passengers and investigate the perpetrator of the bombing.
Over and over, Stevens does this by assuming the identity of a 9 to 5 commuter travelling to Chicago. In between flirting with his attractive single-serving travelling partner, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), he systematically sources out the terrorist.
Despite the loopy concept, the film plays out as expected with relatively few sudden turns. Red herrings like the racially-profiled Arab-looking passenger that turns out to be a false lead fail to move us. Everyone at the military command centre has shifty eyes and talks in cryptic language leading us to assume they are hiding something immoral or unethical from Stevens, and the audience. The passengers, one of whom is Russell Peters, whose presence actually takes us ‘out’ of the movie, aren’t very entertaining and fail to add any significant flavour or colour to the action.
Jones renders the human story as real and sympathetic as possible. The romantic story between Stevens and Christina is predictable, but the more resonant, emotional reconciliation is between Stevens and his father, as well as the indictment of the US military’s exploitation of its soldiers around the world.
The film is mostly kept inside the train in the past and in Steven’s destroyed cockpit in the present, so we can assume the budget was significantly low for this one. This is evident in the action scenes, which are few and unfortunately never really ‘thrill’ us in the way thrillers are supposed to.
The fun of Source Code is wrapping our heads around the temporal confusion and discussing the existential meaning of the thought-provoking final scene. So with its purpose served – Duncan Jones can direct – it’s time for him to move on to more important ventures.