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Source Code

Action Flashback

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Solid, subtle action films are hard to come by these days. The genre is almost synonymous with bloated explosions, car chases, and other high-octane scenarios. Sure, there are some great trigger-happy action films and there are still some great subdued action films, but the latter feel fewer and far between. Luckily, director Duncan Jones remembers the days when Alien wasn’t a big-budget film and The Terminator had fewer explosions.

With Moon, Jones proved that he was nuanced. He was able to take sci-fi and bring it back to the days when the future setting actually pushed the character forward in their realization of redemption or happiness, or whatever they were searching for.

Source Code is his first at bat in the big leagues of Hollywood and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s definitely more in your face than Moon, probably owing to his first big budget, but again, he doesn’t rely on chases and explosions to distract from the story and characters in front of you.

Jones tells a story and he tells it well. Fans of Moon may be slightly disappointed, and Source Code isn’t as perfect, but his sophomore outing is no slump.

What Source Code has in common with Moon is the prevalent claustrophobia for the main character. Instead of being stuck on a lonely moon base, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is stuck replaying a train explosion over and over. As the film opens, Stevens awakes from the “dream” unaware of where he is or what he’s doing. The last thing he remembers is performing serving as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan.

Strapped in, and trapped in some sort of simulation capsule, Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) just keeps reiterating his task at hand — find the bomb and the culprit. Not only does Stevens need to figure out where he is, but he also needs to solve the crime and save the world, so to speak.

What he does find out is that he’s being sent onto a train that exploded earlier that morning, into the body of a man that died on that train. However, he can only experience eight minutes before the bomb detonates, owing to the discovery of source code, or a way to relive small amounts of time in the past. On the train his “host body” Sean has a commute companion Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who is Stevens’ only “friend” during his eight minutes. While Stevens is aware what he is experiencing is only a replay of sorts, he can’t quite give up hope that he could conceivably change the past.

It’s definitely a high-stakes thriller, as Stevens must not only figure out who bombed the train but also must piece together what’s happening to him in the real world. In both worlds, he’s literally stuck in a place he can’t escape. In one he only has eight minutes before he’s burned alive, while in the other he’s in some sort of capsule where Goodwin and her supervisor Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) do all they can to avoid and sideswipe his “irrelevant” questions while trying to figure out who planted the bomb.

For such a tense and taught film, Gyllenhaal is an excellent lead as he effortlessly carries the film while adding touches of humor, subtlety, and urgency. His career has been fairly haphazard but his performance here is amongst his best, with Zodiac and, of course, Donnie Darko. He’s loose and able to draw in the audience. Many actors leading an action/thriller like this would rely on the plot to carry them through the film. Instead, Gyllenhaal is intent on having his character drive the film.

Moon was a similar character-driven film dressed up as a sci-fi thriller, so Jones, no doubt, had a hand in creating that dimension again. With Gyllenhaal, he proves that he understands that great characters are the essential ingredient in a great film.

Source Code is not the powerhouse Moon was, but it’s a solid follow up to a nearly flawless debut and proves Duncan Jones is no one-hit wonder. He’s made the transition from indie auteur to the big leagues while retaining his charm. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a long and exciting career.