Dir. Duncan Jones
. USA. 2011.

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TJake Gyllenhaal, is fast becoming one of those stars who is building up an impressive resume of films, which give him another five years he will have a CV of films which you will read down and say, 'I didn't know he was in that', you already forget that he was in Brokeback Mountain, more remembered for the passing of Heath Ledger and Jarhead, as good a war film produced by Hollywood in recent years.  And those are just two films.

Last summer he appeared in Prince of Persia, a would be summer blockbuster which asked him to put on an English accent and a Jason Bourne body to build up a franchise for himself.  Unfortunately, that film did not capture the audience's attention even though it did have some plus points as harmless family fun.

Source Code offers Gyllenhaal a second chance, and ironically, the film's entire structure revolves around second chances.  Gyllenhaal plays a marine Colter Stevens, who is part of a government program called 'source code' where he is supplanted into an individual who matches his physical specifications (a la Quantum Leap) and he experiences - through simulation and a mastering of physics - the last eight minutes before a tragic incident; he has to find out vital information that may prevent the loss of further lives as the clock ticks and chances slip by. 

Stevens awakes on a train in the body of Sean Prenger opposite a lady he has never seen before, but who Sean clearly has a relationship with. The lady is Christina (Michelle Monaghan) and she is an alluring beauty to wake up opposite.  Stevens has eight minutes before the train blows up to find out who the bomber is and where the bomb is, as well as fall in love.  Okay you cannot do all that in just eight minutes, but the film borrows from Groundhog Day in that Stevens travels back to wake up opposite Christina and so his ordeal or assignment starts again.

Stevens is monitored by Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), a fellow soldier who is her guide and helps with his investigations on the train and she is shadowed by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) the creator of the mechanism and a brooding intense presence who holds vital information to Stevens' personal records in Afghanistan and what happened to his unit.  Stevens wishes to call his father, and Goodwin and Rutledge insist on finishing the job first.

The reason this role is so good for Gyllenhaal is that he has a lot of different genres to tick off; action star, detective, love interest and dramatic moment such as when he phones his father during one eight minute cycle.  When he finally does figure out most things and arrives at the last cycle, he exerts this supreme confidence in his own ability, not just a projection of the character but the actor also.

The script written by Ben Ripley (previous credits include sequels to Species) is a taut piece of science fiction, not too sci-fi for novices to be scared by and with enough action, romance and thrills for all to enjoy. However, the most credit must go to director Duncan Jones (Moon) who has graduated from his freshman piece to this excellent sophmore effort, you can see Jones gaining confidence in his direction as he uses the set of the same carriage train to good effect letting the camera explore the location and using alternative angles for each eight minute cycle instead of the expected same lazy set ups.  Jones obviously wanted to keep the attention of the audience, and key to it was that there mind was probably grasped early enough anyway, the next step was to make sure that they were awaken by what they saw as well as what they heard.

Jones, who elicited a career effort from Sam Rockwell, does the same with Gyllenhaal here as he graduates to play a man, too often he has played prolonged adolescents or boys who have not grown up, in Colter Stevens we see a responsible adult on screen.  He is helped admirably by the two females, Monaghan has never looked lovelier and for someone who started so late in her career she aswell is garnering quite a CV from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to this via the underrated Eagle Eye, she is a calm presence, as is Farmiga here who plays a soldier and woman, and is reassuring to Stevens as he battles in his 'pod' and quest for the answers - taking a severely underwritten role and extending it to something more as she becomes a shared spirit with Stevens.  Jeffrey Wright also plays Rutledge as malevolent self brooding and self-important mad scientist but ultimately a gloryhound in search of fame and fortune.

If I have one flaw it would be the ending, non-ending debate; the choice of actual ending combined with ending that they could have had will be one of endless discussion on noticeboards and forums.  My belief is there was a chance to leave the hero in limbo would have been a noble deed to a man who did quite a lot, and all the talk of living for the moment and if you had one second left to live, what would you do - they swerve us and go in another direction. I felt this was a shame of the initial intentions and contradictory to the intentions of the character, Colter Stevens himself.

Be that as it may, the film still takes you on a brilliant journey full of thrills and spills with something for everyone including romance, adventure and a good old fashioned time travel yarn.  Recommended to everyone, it may be marketed as science fiction but it is a good film so do not let genre labels put you off.  And as for Gyllenhaal, he has found his niche and his entry into the A-list is assured now.
Jamie Garwood

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