SOURCE CODE is but the latest example of an encouraging resurgence in intelligent science fiction cinema. Arriving in Hong Kong mere days after SARFT advised Chinese filmmakers to refrain from developing projects dealing with time travel, in part because they disrespect history and represent “bad science”, this sophomore effort from acclaimed British director Duncan Jones, displays a respect for its audience and subject matter seen all too rarely in mainstream Hollywood thrillers.
Not interested in leading its viewers by the hand through its layered narrative, the film simply gets on with telling the story, confident that the audience will be able to keep up. The opening few minutes maybe somewhat disorientating, but this only helps us get inside the head of Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), who wakes up on a train unaware of his location, who he’s with or what he’s supposed to be doing. His female companion (Michelle Monaghan) believes him to be somebody else, but before Stevens can figure out what is going on, the train explodes. But apparently he knew that was going to happen.
SOURCE CODE falls somewhere between QUANTUM LEAP, the 90s TV show in which Dr Sam Beckett bounced around in time, each week embodying a different person whom he must then help, and Terry Gilliam’s 12 MONKEYS, where Bruce Willis played a futuristic convict repeatedly sent back through time, only to begin questioning his own sanity. In SOURCE CODE, Stevens is an army sergeant given an 8-minute window to locate a terrorist on board the train in the hope of preventing another, far larger threat. Each time he fails he returns to a metal capsule, where his superiors – Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright – assess his progress before sending him out again. It soon becomes apparent, however, that all is not what it seems – in either reality.
While perhaps not quite up to the exceptional standards of his debut feature, MOON, it should be noted that Duncan Jones is here merely a director-for-hire. That SOURCE CODE is as good as it is should certainly help grease the wheels for whatever project Jones sets his sights on next. What he has proved is that with a smart script and a solid cast of capable performers it is possible to make a critically and commercially successful film for very little money. At this stage one thing is certain – in Duncan Jones’ hands, the past, present and future of science fiction have never looked brighter.