Source Code is the closest thing we might ever get to a Quantum Leap movie. Therefore revel in it. The film pays homage to the beloved 1990s television show directly twice. There’s a great early scene in which Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) looks into a bathroom mirror and sees his true reflection and Scott Bakula cameos too. So keep your eyes, or rather ears, open.
Director Duncan Jones made a very smart move with this sci-fi thriller. With Moon, he showed off indie quirk with cult credentials, but this second feature demonstrates mainstream appeal. One wonders whether Jones is our next big thing. The signs are good.
Stevens wakes up on a commuter train heading into downtown Chicago. He’s rather confused by all this because he’s a helicopter pilot fighting on the other side of the world in Afghanistan. This identity crisis is the least of his worries. When the train explodes, he wakes again, this time in a sort of flight simulator.
One of the key strengths of Source Code is the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as Stevens. He’s charming, funny and handles the dramatic stuff with aplomb. In other words, the audience likes him straight away. For a film like this to be effective the viewer must root for the leading man and hope he gets out of his predicament. He’s an Everyman in extraordinary circumstances.
Ben Ripley’s screenplay mixes techno-thriller, sci-fi and good old-fashioned tension-filled drama to brilliant effect. Source Code is a puzzle wrapped inside a Hollywood movie. Stevens and the government program he works for must solve the mystery and save two millions lives. There’s a deranged bomber on the loose.
The post-9/11 world appears to be the main driving point behind a mad scientist’s invention of ‘time reassignment’, where a select person can re-live the last eight minutes of another selected person’s life. Colter Stevens finds himself inhabiting the body of Sean Fentress, a school teacher.
Colter Stevens, at first, doesn’t quite appreciate the situation. He makes selfish mistakes – understandably so, he’s a sacrificial lamb. Stevens’ story gives the film an emotional arc. On the extra features Vera Farmiga, who plays Goodwin (Source Code’s Hal) says the movie is warm and emotional in a genre that can be cold and technical. Quite true.
Another mystery of Source Code’s is whether or not we go with its pay off. Many read the ending as highly ambiguous and that is precisely why it’ll stoke debate for a long time.
The DVD extras include a collection of interviews with the film’s stars and director. They’re electronic press kit material re-hashed for the release but worthwhile. However given they were recorded during production you won’t find any real detail regarding the film’s subtexts and meaning. They don’t want to ruin the surprises in store! You can choose to watch all the interviews in one batch or as individual segments.
The mini-featurette ‘Source Code: Focal Points’ explores the sci-fi aspects. They’re great and open up the science behind the fiction. These are much more intriguing than the interviews, in fact. You might want to check out the Quantum Physics short too given its importance to the internal logic of the movie.
There’s also the option of watching the entire film with a trivia track, which is great fun if you’d like to really know more. Did you know Chicago is home to the first steel framed skyscraper or the Chicago River is 156 miles long? Great for a pub quiz. The best extra is the audio commentary with Duncan Jones, Jake Gyllenhaal and writer Ben Ripley. It goes into great detail on the movie’s origins and the thematic concerns. This is a great movie backed up by well thought out extras (bar the EPK interviews).
Source Code works because it is entertaining and makes you think. That isn’t always something on the Hollywood agenda. One might also put that Zowie Bowie made a wowie. Source Code is destined for cult classic status. No doubt about it.
Source Code is released in the UK on August 15th, available in both DVD and Blu-ray formats.