Army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes to find himself on a train opposite Christine (Michelle Monaghan), a stranger who appears to know him. Eight minutes later she and he are blown to smithereens by a terrorist bomb. But Stevens isn’t dead. He’s being repeatedly projected into the last eight minutes of a commuter’s life by a time-slip technology team determined to find out who planted the bomb. Zapped back in time – over and over – Stevens must convince himself, and Christine, of his mission and identify the bomber before he makes another attack.
Let’s list them. Groundhog Day’s replay of the same events; Quantum Leap’s into-body projection; Twelve Monkeys’ ramshackle time-shift equipment; Déjà Vu’s four-minute window into the past to find a killer. It’s all there. And director Duncan Jones’ gives a voice-cameo to Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) in admission of his influences.
But comparisons are odious and Source Code is a confident, brassy thriller that grips from the start. Smartly edited, the scenarios don’t feel samey, Jones’ deftly handling the conundrums of the plot. Gyllenhaal’s committed performance and Monaghan’s perfect foil root the film in a kind of reality – making you care for them both.
Some ropey effects betray the budget’s limitations. But the real punch is in the scenarios – Stevens getting ever nearer to the answer before his eight minutes expire and send him back to square one. Jones gives Stevens two puzzles. Like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day weatherman, and Moon’s solo astronaut, Stevens must figure out how he came to be stuck in this twilight world in the first place. A head-scratcher, then. And with an edginess as to the outcome.
Engaging and unsentimental in its approach, Source Code is worth re-watching – good on the big screen but probably more satisfying on DVD. Less intense than Moon, it’s got a broad appeal. And in a growing line of sci-fi conundrum thrillers like Inception and The Adjustment Bureau, Source Code successfully keeps its cards to its chest until the end.
Loose threads? Only one – what about Sean Fentress, the commuter Stevens inhabits? Maybe the DVD extras and commentary are needed just to pin down precisely what happened. Certainly, the ending may well remind you of another recent sci-fi film – which won’t be named here to avoid spoilers. Short and sharp, Source Code is refreshingly entertaining. Press rewind.