A year ago in the blockbuster movie season of 2010, Christopher Nolan released Inception to much acclaim and commercial success. There was a good discussion held on The FAT website review page about the film’s merits and whether we felt it lived up to the hype. A common critique of the film was that it was too clever by half. So much time was spent on the exposition laying out the rules in the multi-tiered dream states that there was very little about the characters themselves that we learnt. Who are these people? What makes them tick?
A year after Inception‘s release and we now have another blockbuster sci-fi film that explores the idea of alternate realities. In Source Code, Colter Stevens is a U.S military soldier who wakes up in the body of a passenger onboard a train that is rigged with a deadly explosive. In eight minutes, the bomb explodes. Stevens fails to stop it and dies. Or so you would expect.
Instead he awakens inside a testing chamber. He meets a woman named Goodwin over a video feed who tasks him with stopping the bomb and finding the culprit. He gets re-sent into the eight minute train sequence to have another go. And another. And another. Stevens makes a hash of the mission over and over while he gets his bearings. Should I trust Goodwin? Should I focus on stopping the terrorist first or finding the bomb? What is my real identity and how did I get into this situation? Hey, that girl sitting across from me seems nice…
I really enjoyed Duncan Jone’s debut film Moon two years ago and pegged him as a director to watch out for. With Source Code, he has once again struck gold. I believe this film emphatically addresses the major shortcoming of Inception. It is a film with character. Jake Gyllenhaal, who I havent really found interesting since Donnie Darko a decade ago, turns in a great performance as Colter Stevens. He behaves in a believable and relatable manner for someone who finds themselves stuck in this bizarre timeloop. After he gets his head around his environment and settles in for the challenge, we come to find Stevens is someone who is funny, smart and determined. He is an easy protagonist to cheer for.
The supporting cast is excellent too. I particularly liked the introduction of the eccentric scientist Dr Rutledge, who wants to see Stevens succeed so he can further his own career ambitions. Jeffrey Wright is an excellent character actor. I thought he looked vaguely familiar to me when he was on the screen but I couldn’t place the movie or the role. I looked him up on IMDB when I got home. The last film I saw him in he was playing Colin Powell.
Jones really works the Groundhog Day concept in resourceful fashion. From this single eight minute passage, he is able to create a compelling action thriller but somewhat unexpectedly, he is also able to craft a rather enjoyable love story too. And then at the end of it all, when the story all comes together and the loose ends are tied, he pulls back the curtain to reveal how Stevens came to be in this situation and it reminded me of a rather dark Roald Dahl short story William and Mary.
Source Code is Inception but with a lot more heart. It once again highlights Duncan Jones as a smart and savvy director who now was two really enjoyable sci-fi films to his name. He clearly is able to draw great performances from his cast and he has a knack for telling a good story. I eagerly look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.