Source Code – DVD Review
Murder on the Disorient Express
Release Date: 15 August 2011
2011 | 12 | 89 mins | £14.99 (DVD)/£24.99 (double-play Blu-ray/DVD)
Distributor: Optimum Releasing
Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan
Sean Fentress (Gyllenhaal) is just your everyman teacher, on his morning commute with his colleague Christina (Monaghan). What Sean doesn’t know is that his train is going to explode in eight minutes. What he also doesn’t know is that he’s actually Captain Colter Stevens, a soldier forced to repeatedly relive the last eight minutes of Sean’s life in order to discover who bombed the train. And if you think that sounds convoluted, all we can say is… “Oh boy”.
After the success of Moon we were eager to see what director Duncan Jones would come up with next. It’s obvious what attracted Jones to Source Code – his Blade Runner-esque pet project Mute was floundering in development hell, and here was a pre-packaged go project with a star already attached. Source Code already had pedigree too – a pacy sci-fi thriller script, it had appeared on the infamous Hollywood Black List of hot, unproduced scripts the year before. It makes sense as a sophomore effort for Jones – like Moon, Source Code is also a neat little sci-fi fable, a Tharg’s Future Shock, featuring a protagonist fighting to discover a surprising truth. But unlike Moon’s Sam Bell, Colter Stevens isn’t trapped in a physical place – he’s trapped in someone’s mind.
Stevens is operating from Beleaguered Castle, a secret military facility in possession of Source Code, a machine that apparently allows them to plug into the last few minutes of a person’s life in order to relive them over and over again. Each time Colter jumps into Sean’s body, he has to make different choices to flush out the bomber’s identity, and it’s interesting to see the same eight minutes of story played out as a detective story, an action movie and a romance. Finding the bomber is an almost impossible challenge under the circumstances, but the Groundhog Day repetition of the scenario means that Colter learns a little bit more each time, improving his odds with every run. From the very beginning you’re anticipating the “perfect” final run, where Colter will avert the threat, save the girl and prevent coffee from spilling on his shoes. It’s like watching someone attempt to get a top ranking on a particularly tricky level of a videogame, and it’s to the movie’s credit that when that sequence finally occurs, it still manages to subvert your expectations.
Gyllenhaal is probably at his most appealing since Donnie Darko, with an infectiously upbeat approach to the mission for the most part. His two leading ladies, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan, should probably have inspected their tickets a little closer before getting on this locomotive, though. As Christina, Monaghan isn’t given much to do apart from looking hot while reacting to Sean’s increasingly bizarre behaviour. Farmiga, who plays Colter’s handler at Beleaguered Castle, does at least get to show a bit of emotion; doubly impressive when you realise that she spends most of the film acting into a webcam. The awesome Jeffrey Wright has the most fun, with a superbly jittery performance as the scientist behind the project. Source Code is a tight little whodunit for the first two acts, but as it gets into the final act, the film suddenly becomes far less interested in Quantum Leaping, and much more interested in quantum mechanics. It feels really cheap to base a twist around deliberate misinformation, and science geeks who spend the first hour screaming, “But it wouldn’t work like that!” will spend the last 30 minutes wrapped in a “Told you so” smug/angry feedback loop. And if that weren’t enough to sour the experience slightly, the film’s topped with a multiple pile-up of endings that pushes the whole thing off the rails and into the path of an oncoming freight train. It’s not that any of the endings don’t work individually; it’s just that the ultimate explanation of what Source Code really does is badly fumbled, and wll probably leave you scratching your head. Admittedly, it’s here that the home viewing experience comes into its own, and being able to rewatch those befuddling closing 20 minutes a few times will probably clear things up for you if you are left scraping your scalp with your fingernails.
It’s a sign of Jones’s inexperience, and perhaps those multiple endings might have been better handled by a more seasoned pro. Instead, Jones has delivered a superior episode of The Twilight Zone, filmed with confidence and flair, but let down by some unfair scientific red herrings and a muddled dénouement. Of course, here at SFX, we’ve nothing against projects that try to reprogram the grey matter, but we’re trying to be Objective-C and sadly Duncan’s Assembly of this Source Code has a few too many BASIC errors to be considered a true Perl.
The standout is the commentary with Jones and writer Ben Ripley. The “Cast and Crew Insights” are a series of short featurettes on the characters and train set; while the “Focal Points” are more of the same on Quantum physics, the Many Worlds Theory, Brain Computer Interface (!) and more.