Duncan Jones’s Source Code sits in the same realm of bombastic science fiction as stuff like Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency, Tony Scott’s Deja Vu and others. What I mean by that is that the central premise is just too out there to be believable, but the film possesses a sense of wonder, energy and salesmanship around the story that it somehow grabs you along for the ride and becomes a great film despite itself.
Sort of an archetypal reworking of Groundhog Day, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, a US military pilot who finds himself out of space and time, waking up on a speeding Chicago train that’s destined for a fiery explosion once it reaches the city limits. The train explodes, everyone on it dies including him and then… he wakes up on it again minutes later, rinse and repeat. This mysterious time loop continues until he can find a way to locate the mad bomber and stop them before catastrophe, with the help of another intrepid passenger (Michelle Monaghan, always superb). Elsewhere and when, a military correspondent (Vera Farmiga) and her oddball scientist boss (Jeffrey Wright in yet another brazenly eccentric but fun performance) oversee his actions from some unseen echelons, literally keeping him in the dark about what’s really happening.
This is the kind of boundlessly imaginative SciFi stuff you’d find Dennis Quaid or Jeff Bridges starring in back in the 80s/90s heyday of the genre, and I love the retro feel. Gyllenhaal makes his performance a nervous, jumpy and engaging creation, inhabiting a trippy world of sliding planes, otherworldly revelations and fast paced problem solving nicely. Watch for comedian Russell Peters in a key role too as well as Michael Arden and Scott Bakula. This film has drawn criticism for several plot holes, but I don’t even think they can be called that, given the extremely ‘out there’ nature of the content. Yes, there are some issues with how things are wrapped up but by the time we get there the fabric of time, space and reality are so thrown to the wind that one can think a way around the troubling implications using imagination. It’s such a far flung concept but the actors all sell it straight-faced for the most part (Wright gets a bit knowingly campy) and the whole thing comes across very well, especially elements of sunny optimism and pathos that are welcome and make the story stick. There’s no denying the originality here either, or the ambition. Director Jones debuted with the excellent Moon, followed it up as strongly as this and then sort of took a plummet with that lame Warcraft thing, but here’s hoping he gets back on top of the SciFi game soon, because he’s got talent and genuine affection for the genre.