21st Century Boy: Duncan Jones's Sci-Fi Potboiler

City Pulse | March 28, 2011
Director Duncan Jones follows up his impressive debut feature "Moon" with this suspenseful sci-fi potboiler. Jake Gyllenhaal is ideally cast as Captain Colter Stevens. Stevens is a soldier caught between worlds. His apparent body is trapped in a plane cockpit. He communicates via video with military scientists who feed him instructions for his current mission. Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright are the faces of a program called Source Code. Stevens's brain is wired into the Source Code which allows our hero to travel back in space and time for eight minute intervals, during which he must locate and disable a bomb. On a speeding Chicago commuter train Stevens sits opposite his attractive fellow suburbanite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). The catch is, Stevens is inhabiting the body of a man who died along with everyone else on the train when a terrorist's bomb detonated. The unique situation makes mirrors especially uncomfortable for Stevens. "Find the bomber, and you'll find the bomb." Like "Groundhog Day" set in hell, Stevens is repeatedly blown up at the end of each eight minute sequence, but he gets ahead of the action he's able to now predict with uncanny precision. Michelle Monaghan lights up the film. The romantic spark which develops between Christina and Stevens brings warmth to the story. Newcomer Ben Ripley's brilliant script comes to vibrant life with a strong musical score by Chris Bacon. Here's the first great Hollywood action movie of the year.

There's a zeitgeist occurring in the genre of psychological thriller. "Inception," " The Adjustment Bureau," "Limitless," "Unknown," and "Source Code" all have certain unmistakable character and plot elements in common. In each one, secret technologies employed in covert operations. An atmosphere of perpetual confusion figures into each film. In every story the information that the main character has access to determines his ability to adapt in crisis situations. In "Unknown" Liam Neeson is at direct odds with his identity. He isn't the man people think he is. The same is true in "Limitless," with its drug-assisted, coming-of-genius parable, and in "Source Code," in which a soldier battles fate across time.

An interesting aspect of "Source Code" lies in the character development exposed in Colter Stevens's shifting attitudes toward his would-be love interest. Christina is nothing but receptive to Stevens regardless of his varying degrees of erratic behavior. She's an open book. During his first return to the recurring eight minute train predicament, Stevens dismisses Christina as a robot-of-distraction. It takes him another visit before he views her for the real and valuable person she is. The "love interest" aspect builds from there. The scenes build neatly in a logic that supports Stevens's goal of saving the passengers. A major shift occurs when Colter invites Christina to sit next to him to play a game of picking out suspicious traveler. A tangible romantic subplot develops into a sophisticated treatise on the nature of relationship. Gyllenhaal and Monaghan are thrilling together. Their natural sense of give-and-take-expression is spot on. As with "The Adjustment Bureau," the romantic connection polarizes the action.

"Source Code" features two dynamic female characters who take the story in opposing directions. Vera Farmiga's military scientist Colleen Goodwin fills the screen as she communicates within strict guidelines with Captain Stevens. It seems during her early talks with the wounded soldier that she might be closer to the robot-distraction he perceives Christiana to be. Then a funny thing happens. Colleen does a similar change-of-behavior as Stevens exhibited with Christina. There's grit, and muscle, and beauty, and even intelligent satire wrapped up in "Source Code." You might want to see it more than once.

Rated PG-13. 93 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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