How do you save a city in only 8 minutes? You repeat them over and over again until you get what you need. That’s right, it’s Groundhog Day! Well, more like Groundhog 8 minutes really. One man’s journey into another man’s ‘consciousness’ spiralling him back onto himself, Duncan Jones’ thoroughly enjoyable second outing Source code stands as a unique film whilst exploring similar themes to the director’s critically lauded first feature Moon (2009). Like a mad chemist’s fusion of Groundhog Day and The Butterfly Effect,with a twist or five of 80s sci-fi television show Quantum Leap for good measure.
The city in need of saving is Chicago and Source Code’s Bill Murray figure is a more intense and less humorous Jake Gyllenhaal playing US army chopper pilot Cpt Colter Stevens. Cpt Stevens wakes on a Chicago bound train with no memory of how he got there or who he is with; his last memory is of flying a mission in Afghanistan. The mystery slowly begins to unravel both for us the viewer as it does for Cpt Stevens but I won’t spoil anything by giving more away.
Taking writer Ben’s Ripley’s not-nearly-as-smart-as-it-thinks-it-is script, Jones and co. turn out a film that is as tightly framed and put together as the plot is wound. Sure, the story twists and turns, like a twisty-turny thing, but it does so in a very knowing, nose tapping kind of way. However, with its incredibly limited grasp of the science it is purporting to frame its story upon (uncertainty principle, many-worlds interpretation etc), Source Code’s story/screenplay sometimes comes off as unjustifiably smug and self assured. Considering half of writer Ben Ripley’s (extremely limited) previous experience includes two of the latter Species sequels this is perhaps unsurprising (I know – there’s more than one?!) It is a credit to Jones and his team that they lift this middling script to an above average piece of cinema.
High on the commendation list is cinematographer Don Burgess (Spiderman, The Book of Eli) who frames some stunning helicopter captured vistas and city scenes for the film’s opening and then makes good use of the tightly confined train-car, simulator(?) settings in which the bulk of the film was shot. Jake Gyllenhaal puts in a noteworthy performance shouldering much of the dramatic weight of the piece with great aplomb. Major support roles (Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright) are all decent without really standing out. Top of this commendation list, though, would be the director. Jones keeps the film ticking along with creative narrative threading and sequence timing – for example almost all of the 8 min ‘repeats’ are approximately real-time adding to the sense of tension and urgency Gyllenhaal serves up. The filmmaker also weaves in a healthy dose of romance (as you do) taking an unusually significant amount of focus off of Source Code’s thriller elements. And though many critics seem to be crowing about this being a Groundhog Day carbon copy minus the humour – how many people can possibly write “It’s Groundhog Day…on a train!”?! – it is somewhat telling that Groundhog Day is not directly referenced within whereas the Film/TV geeks might have picked the voice cameo from Quantum Leapstar Scott Bakula.
Sift your way past the pseudo-science, the unavoidable plot-holes, and the pulp genre film/television references and you can see Jones exploring those same ideas of repetition and manufactured human experience which he canvassed in his exceptional feature film debut. Source Code may not be the kind of intelligent stripped bare study that its predecessor Moon was but it does succeed fairly well as a more mainstream outing of essentially the same core thematic investigation; a flawed film but one that is well worth seeing.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell