What if you had eight minutes to save the world?
What if you had eight minutes to live?
What if it these eight minutes were your mind in someone else’s body?
Now that’s what I call High Concept.
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an air force pilot involved an experimental programme known as Source Code, which allows him to transport into the body of a train bombing victim eight minutes before their death. Can he discover the identity of the bomber before they strike again?
Duncan Jones’ debut Moon was one of the most startling debuts in recent cinema, taking a 1970’s sci-fi sensibility with an intensely humanistic story and a fabulous lead performance from Sam Rockwell. His sophomore effort would always come under more intense scrutiny, but rest assured Mr Bowie Jnr is far from a one trick pony.
A breathless opening establishes the time loop as Gyllenhaal effectively quantum leaps into a body he does not recognise, as clueless as the audience. Initially he thinks it is some sort of simulation until he is blown to kingdom come and his first point of contact Goodwin (Vera Farminga) reveals a far more frightening truth. The pace does not let up as Stevens races against time to achieve his mission.
As the plot develops, the motives of Stevens’ military commanders become increasingly clouded. Trapped in a capsule and with no memory of events since he was in Afghanistan, he is as much a lab monkey as Moon’s Sam Bell. Being killed over and over again can’t be any fun but there is a moral vacuum as far as his wellbeing is concerned. Gyllenhaal counteracts this by surging Stevens with humanity as he develops a relationship with a fellow passenger (Michelle Monaghan), who he is constantly told is dead and cannot be saved. It is a star performance full of pathos and humour, proving that Prince of Persia was nothing more than a blip.
Brainy blockbusters have experienced a re-birth with the likes of Inception and the Adjustment Bureau and Source Code is a welcome addition. Ideas of identity, humanity and fate : Are the train passengers expendable because they are already dead? What about the innocent person whose body Stevens has taken over? – are all floated without railroading the story or confusing the viewer with jargon.
It is happy to not take itself too seriously as it mines serious humour from the situation as Stevens re-lives the same moments a la Groundhog Day, knowing exactly what will happen. Perhaps this is also the film’s biggest failing and also it does not work well as a thriller with the bomber about as hard to find as an X-Factor winner at a photo op. Also Farminga, Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright (as a Frankenstein like scientist) are given very little to do apart from push the plot forward.
Coming in pleasingly at under 100 minutes and including a shocking but understated twist, Source Code makes you think without being a complete mind bender. You will come out wanting to watch it again, but maybe not every eight minutes.