AFED #102: Source Code (US, 2011); Dir. Duncan Jones

The opening to Duncan Jones' second feature film is classic Hitchcock, and not just because Chris Bacon's rousing score evokes Bernard Herrmann in his pomp. Helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens on a passenger train sitting opposite a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who seems to believe he's somebody else.

More worryingly still when he checks a mirror the face that looks back is not his own. Yet before he's had a chance to try and understand what's happening a bomb on the train explodes, killing everyone.

Since Gyllenhaal is the star and this is a science fiction movie you know it's only the beginning. He reawakens to find himself strapped into a sealed, cockpit-like cabin where - via a monitor - an air force officer (Vera Farmiga) explains to him he's part of an experimental programme that allows subjects to travel back in time to enter and control the thoughts of the last eight minutes of a dead person's life. Capt Stevens' mission is to find who planted the bomb and prevent them from detonating a much larger device later that day. Again and again he keeps reliving those eight minutes as the bigger picture slowly becomes evident.

The result is a scenario that's part Groundhog Day and part Quantum Leap; which one imagines is exactly how it was pitched. Even by sci-fi standards it's an outlandish and totally illogical concept, although the denouement at least offers a pat explanation to what really actually happened. Kind of.

Yet once you've suspended disbelief it's a tight and very enjoyable action thriller with a few points to make about the brevity of life and ceasing the day. Like Groundhog Day there's something very compelling about history repeating like this; perhaps it's a fundamental human yearning to recapture the past.

This is a bigger, dumber, altogether glossier film than Jones' debut Moon, but what its loses in sentience it surprisingly gains in emotional warmth. Gyllenhaal - who announced his arrival a decade ago with another time travel film of sorts, Donnie Darko - makes for a robust and dynamic action hero, ably complemented by the attractive Monaghan and Farmiga.

All in all it looks like the director has now very much arrived on the Hollywood map and it's intriguing to see where his career goes from here, whether Jones prefers the mainstream or the greater creative freedom of the independent scene. One is reminded of how George Lucas began his career with an arty science fiction film (THX-1138) only to change into something quite different. Still, given he's David Bowie's son perhaps a penchant for change runs in the family.


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