Source Code – Directed by Duncan Jones
A couple of years ago, a previously unknown director named Duncan Jones produced a sci-fi film named Moon for $5 million dollars. It was smart, it was original, and I started to get my hopes up that we had a talented new genre director on our hands.
I was wrong. We have an EXCEPTIONALLY talented new genre director on our hands. Source Code is only Duncan Jones’ second film, and I’m really not sure I’ve seen a better second Hollywood movie. His first film showed his talent as an independent filmmaker: Interesting sci-fi concept, excellent execution. His second film shows that his talent won’t be confined to art houses, and he’s produced a huge, slick, Hollywood thriller here, that most directors with decades of experience wouldn’t have been able to pull off.
Our story begins with Jake Gyllenhaal, whose performance here is most notable for being the first of his that I’ve seen that doesn’t suck. He wakes up on a commuter train heading to Chicago, with his consciousness in the body of a school teacher he’s never heard of. He’s obviously confused, even more so when the train explodes 8 minutes later. He’s even more confused when he realizes that he’s part of a secret military project that allows him to revisit those same 8 minutes again and again. His mission: To find out who set the bomb, and to try to find if they’ve set any other explosives in the city.
It’ll take me some time to fully appreciate how well-crafted this film is, and it’s one of those few films that actually beg you to watch the “making of” feature on blu-ray just to answer the question of how much of its brilliant tension was created in the script, and how much of it was created in the editing room. Any film whose central premise is that we’re going to have to watch the same scene dozens of times is going to struggle to make each viewing of that scene unique, and identifiable, and this movie does that in spades. Just when you’re tired of listening to a particular line over and over, Jones removes it. As soon as your brain formulates a questions, Jones answers it. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, Jones goes in another direction. This film is an excercise in confident film-making.
I don’t want you to think this is a movie whose main strengths are in the editing bay or in the effects room. Just the opposite, in fact. This is character-driven sci-fi, with a thoughtful script, an exceptional cast to carry it out ( most notably Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright). And although other directors might have faltered with all of the angst, Jones doesn’t, and never lets the drama veer into maudlin territory. Every character beat serves the story perfectly.
So for those of you who equate “big budget” with “Big special effects and a crappy script”, go see this film. For those of you who don’t believe that thoughtful, interesting characters can appear in a Hollywood spectacle, go see this film. And for those of you that thought that true science fiction was dead in mainstream cinema, go see this film.
Ok, Hollywood. I’ll lay off. Here’s the new deal: You keep making great, accessible thrillers like this, and I’ll keep going to your movies.