Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jeffrey Wright, Vera Farmiga
Watch Source Code online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Prime / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
If Hitchcock made science fiction, it would probably turn out something like this. Trains, romance, an unsuspecting male lead; it’s all delightfully North by Northwest, right up until the train goes kaboom. Eight minutes later, it happens again. And again. And again.
Tasked with repeatedly exploding until he finds the bomber, Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) isn’t a happy bunny. He’s stuck forever splattering his innards over a Chicago railway and keeps waking up in a cramped metal booth where a woman (Farmiga) orders him about via Skype. And to top it all off, he doesn’t even has his own face.
The answers are drip-fed to him via videophone: the Source Code is a programme that lets him relive the last eight minutes of someone else’s life. With each burst of time, Colter gets closer to his on-board companion, Christina (the always-excellent Monaghan). But just as he starts to get a feel for her sauce code, along comes fate and blows them both up. Balls.
Can two dead people (one a man-inside-another-man’s-body) really have a future? Enter scientist Dr Rutledge (Wright), who uses words like “time re-assignment” to prove how smart he is. Then the whole notion of parallel universes rears its head, and the sci-fi element of Source Code really starts to kick in.
What’s impressive here is that Duncan Jones juggles the technical mumbo-jumbo with a satisfying CGI blast but keeps the scale small; we spend as much time sharing Colter’s claustrophobic isolation as we do talking to his fellow train passengers. Throughout, Jake Gyllenhaal adds a nice layer of manic desperation to the soldier out of his depth. And he totally rocks a tweed jacket like a guy who knows he’s only got eight minutes to look good.
Comparisons to Hitchcock are easy to make (Chris Bacon’s enjoyably spiky score echoes Herrmann), but Hitchcock never listened to Chesney Hawkes. Instead, look at that other recent train movie, Unstoppable. Keeping things equally kinetic, Jones nails the hurtling pace of Ben Ripley’s screenplay but without going full Tony Scott. Unlike the similar but bloated Deja Vu, there are no intrusive camera gimmicks: Duncan’s happy picking out criss-crossing train tracks, and admiring ducks flying over ponds. That easy, natural style means Source Code never feels like a Hollywood vehicle, let alone someone else’s script.
It all wraps up with a vaguely poignant finish – a reminder that Jones can handle relationships as much as a big budget. The scientific twists may get a little over-convoluted, but the engaging cast give the ending a strong emotional hook. You can even overlook Jeffrey Wright’s hammy performance (he spends his time waving around a walking stick like an over-excited Bond villain). Moon fans may be sad to see the director move away from his indie debut, but if this is Duncan Jones doing mainstream, there’s nothing to worry about. Trains. Brains. Romance. It’s total Hitchcock. If Hitchcock listened to Chesney Hawkes.
Source Code is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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