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Source Code (2011)
Director: Duncan Jones

review by J.C. Hartley

Selling the high concept is everything, of course, so I'm guessing that they sold this one as Groundhog Day meets 12 Monkeys with just a whiff of North By Northwest. The film starts with one of those big Bernard Herrmann type scores and shots of glass and steel buildings in Chicago, then Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaall, Donnie Darko) wakes up on a train. Stevens' companion Christina (Michelle Monaghan) is thanking him for career advice but Stevens doesn't know where he is or why. He sees 'himself' in the washroom mirror and the image is different from our view of him, Quantum Leap style. Then the train explodes.

Stevens wakes up in what seems like a metal pod, where he is debriefed by Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) an air force captain. Stevens has survived the crash of his helicopter in Afghanistan and has been co-opted into an experimental process created by limping bad-tempered scientist Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), whereby his consciousness can be sent back for eight minutes to occupy the body of someone else. Stevens is finally convinced that this is not a psychological drill, and that he is needed to identify the terrorist who has blown up a commuter train that very morning, and is planning to explode a nuclear device down-town later that day. It is nonsense but it works.

There's something eminently satisfying seeing Stevens replay the same sequence, gradually getting to grips with his mission, making the occasional wrong move (he tries to get off the train), and inevitably falling in love with the girl. The reveals aren't so very big; I'd kind of figured out who the bomber was, and I think we all know that Stevens is dead. The final sequences got very 1960s for me, but I don't know why. There is something quite Twilight Zone or Outer Limits about the playing and the twists, if twists they are, and you see them coming. Maybe it is Goodwin's uniform. Stevens finds a way to cheat fate, perhaps, with Goodwin's help, and I don't think I would have understood it even if I hadn't had a drink, but that doesn't matter.

Duncan Jones scored a bigger hit with this outing, to build on the enthusiasm aroused by Moon. Like Christopher Nolan, he's serious about science fiction that doesn't have to introduce pesky aliens and lay waste to cities. However, this is good but the adjective that springs to mind is efficient. The leads are attractive and the relationships inspire confidence but it's like a very good version of a story we all know. Moon rather lost momentum after we knew Sam Rockwell was a clone, and this one also seems to taper out.

Jones is apparently doing another picture called 'Mute' set in Berlin and described by him as a 'love letter' to Blade Runner. Well that's great but there's a risk that it will turn into another reference-heavy homage. I'm being critical because I think Jones is a terrific director, doing intelligent entertaining work, but I'm greedy, I want something truly original. And I'm sure he's capable of delivering that, but maybe not just yet.

DVD extras: a commentary, interviews, focal points, trivia, and the science behind the whole wacky concept.

Source Code poster

Source Code DVD

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