Film Review: Source Code

   Being the progeny of  one of the biggest rock stars of all time comes with huge expectations and a hell of a giant shadow which could become engulfing; it certainly comes with pressure and expectations. Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, however, managed to more than carve a name out for himself, and an identity of his own, with his first feature film Moon; a moody yet loving homage to the science fiction movies which came before it such as Space Odyssey and Silent Running. Since then, the only thing Jones has had to live in the shadow of is his own perfectly crafted debut.

   The main problem with following up Moon was that it was such an unexpected gem which seemed to one day materialise from nowhere, blossoming through a stream of critical awe and superlative reviews. It was low budget and uncompromising, individualistic and personal - the exact opposite of many blockbusters which seem bloated and factory made. So, when it was announced that Duncan Jones was to direct a much higher budgeted feature, starring A-lister Jake Gyllenhaal no less, questions remained about whether studio interference would allow him to retain his own voice and artistic integrity. Could Jones make the leap from indie auteur to helmer of a big budget popcorn picture without sacrificing any of the originality or flair which made his name as an eye-catching talent?

   From the opening frames it's clear that Source Code is going to be an entirely different beast from Moon. Whereas the latter was introverted and slow-moving, the former begins confidently with a bold blast of musical cues torn straight from thrillers of Hollywood movies of old. Jones' Hitchock-ian intro begins on a train with a startled Colter (Gylenhaal) awoken from a slumber, disconcerted and panicked - the mysterious lady sat opposite him (Michelle Monaghan) insists on calling him Sean to add to his confusion. Where is he and why does everyone see him as a different person? Tension tugs away at the confusion of the scene which ends abruptly in appropriate blockbuster style; an explosion engulfs the entire vehicle seemingly killing all of its passengers. Unlike Scream, or perhaps more appropriately Psycho, this early development doesn't mean the premature death of our lead character and the film's biggest star as, somewhat unexpectedly, he's forced to live the same minutes again and to try and decipher which passenger is responsible for the bombing.

   We soon learn what is responsible for the mysterious turn of events. The Source Code takes its name from an experimental device which allows its user to relive segments of another compatible person's life within an alternative timeline; it is apparent that Stevens, seemingly compatible with a teacher named Sean, is stuck in such a system, placed there by the government to solve a case of terrorism who subject him to a terrifying Groundhog Day-esque experience. Even more horrifying for our lead is a secret as to what has happened to his real body whilst he is inhabiting Sean's, something which turns the complexion of his life and, indeed, the feature up on it's head.

   Whilst the differences between Source Code and Moon are marked and obvious, there are quite a few similarities too and, thankfully, all of these are positives. Despite the increase in scale, Jones has managed to helm a picture which does not surrender the cerebral plotting of his debut feature - both films take a patient approach (narrative-wise) of slowly, albeit intensely, unfolding themselves in front of their viewers leaving subtle hints as to what will happen next. It is this clever approach, alongside the fact that, unlike similarly multi-stranded movies like Inception, there are characters to actually care about and empathise with in the puzzle, that rewards multiple viewings. Like Moon too, this is a feature which owes a debt to classic cinema before it; despite Source Code's sci-fi premise the real inspirations here are the procedural movies and thrillers of the seventies, in particular the likes of All The President's Men, and the fingerprints of Alfred Hitchcock are never found too far away from the movie's core. It's a film that loves cinema and a film that cinema lovers will love.

* This feature is available to purchase from Zavvi who were kind enough to send me a copy to review. You can browse their DVD collection here.

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