I knew I was going to like Source Code from the very beginning as the undeniably Hitchcockian opening sequence of an urgent score accompanying aerial shots of the Chicago cityscape and an approaching commuter train established an immediately compelling tone.
Source Code is an accomplished sci-fi thriller, executing what it sets out to do so effortlessly that, at first glance, it might not seem like anything special. What sets it apart though is its ability to make a complex plot appear entirely uncomplicated through good old fashioned storytelling bolstered by a masterful ability of smoothly revealing its secrets in a manner befitting the flow of the film: a major element I found lacking in The Adjustment Bureau, preventing it from being any better than it is. Whereas The Adjustment Bureau sacrificed story progression by stopping every once in a while to explain important plot points, Source Code is confident enough to allow its audience moments of confusion as the plot unfolds naturally, without egregious interruption for the sake of clarification.
On the surface, the plot appears to be pretty straightforward: Inhabiting the body of one of the victims, Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) must find out who bombed an early morning commuter train arriving in Chicago by replaying again and again the final eight minutes on board the ill-fated locomotive through the use of a new government defense program called Source Code, brainchild of the considerably reprehensible Dr. Rutledge, played with a believably arrogant sense of self-satisfaction by Jeffrey Wright. But when the mystery shifts from who bombed the train to the more intriguing questions of how Captain Colter Stevens came to be involved with Source Code and what the ramifications of the program really are, the movie takes on levels more interesting and ethically challenging than initially anticipated. Add to that a romantic interest, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who, having died in the blast, only exists inside the Source Code, and an entire new level of interest is generated as Captain Stevens, despite being informed that it won’t change a thing since the tragedy has already happened, gets it in his head to save Christina and all the other passengers from their (seemingly) already-sealed fate.
That purposefully placed parenthetical is one of the only clues I’m going to give to unraveling the secrets Source Code has to offer in its efficient 93 minute run time.
With this movie and his previous achievement, Moon, Duncan Jones has now solidified himself in my mind as one of the, if not the, go-to directors for sci-fi, an acknowledgment I would have once bestowed upon Alex Proyas simply for his masterpiece, Dark City, if it weren’t for misfires such as I, Robot and Knowing (studio interferences aside). Even more reassuring is Jones’s trust in the intelligence of his audience as he doesn’t provide any easy answers or dumb anything down, an approach somewhat rare in modern-day sci-fi flicks, though, to be sure, the film never enters Primer levels of perplexity.
Source Code’s ending is one that raises even more questions and leaves you thinking as you leave the theater. Unlike The Adjustment Bureau, which concluded in a frustratingly feeble manner, as if the filmmakers didn’t know how else to achieve the happy ending audiences expected, Source Code provides us with our happy ending, but then gives us a coda we didn’t really see coming. Endings like this can be dangerous since they run the risk of making the audience feel like the rug has been pulled out from under their feet if not handled just right. But when executed correctly, such moments can feel natural and stimulating, making the possibility of any other ending seem unimaginable. Only confident directors take such risks. Only gifted directors pull them off.