Part DEJA VU (2006) and part INCEPTION (2010), Duncan Jones' sophomore follow-up to his critically-acclaimed MOON (2009) proves he's no flash in the pan after all. His second movie, SOURCE CODE works impressively well as a complex science fiction/action thriller that is both mind-bending and thought-provoking.
The movie opens immediately with a bang, where Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself suddenly awakes in a commuter train en route to Chicago. He feels both disoriented and confused. Seated across him is a sweet-looking woman named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who seems to know him very well but keeps calling him Sean. Then in exactly eight minutes later, he and everybody else onboard dies from a planted bomb that blows the entire train into smithereens.
However, Colter suddenly awakes in a dark and compact room where he finds himself being strapped to a seat. In front of him is a computer screen that enables him to correspond with Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), a military technician who works under the command of Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) in a mysterious organization known as Beleaguered Castle. Colter is then being told that he's being put under the "Source Code" program where he is required to relive the same eight minutes of someone else's life over and over again to find out who bombed a commuter train in Chicago that morning. And each of the eight minutes he force to endure, he memorizes whatever necessary details that will help the mission succeed. Colter also subsequently uncovers the truth about himself, as well as the parallel universe he experienced through the function of the "Source Code".
The premise behind SOURCE CODE immediately recalls something as identical as GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), except this is laced with science fiction undertones. No doubt a movie that involves a person trapped in the same time frame over and over again is fun to watch for, and Ben Ripley's relentless screenplay certainly shows here with flying color. This is especially intriguing as we witnesses how Colter gradually improvises each time he is send back to the commuter train to rectify the situation. While the science fiction underpinning that tries to explain the nature of the "Source Code" really requires a huge suspension of disbelief, the movie remains enjoyable enough to dismiss most of the flaws.
Apart from its engaging thrill-a-minute scenario, the movie also works best for developing an efficient relationship drama between Colter and Christina. Thanks to the vibrant appeal of Gyllenhaal and Monaghan, they share an instant spark in their believable chemistry that elevates the movie from being just a conceptual technical exercise. Gyllenhaal is simply spontaneous, as he brings enough intensity and charm to his character that it's hard not to root for him. Monaghan is a magnetic presence as her sweet-natured and affectionate personality matches well with Gyllenhaal.
As much as Gyllenhaal and Monaghan display their fair share of excellent performances, the supporting cast anchors the movie just as good. In what could have been thankless roles, both Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright deliver noteworthy performances respectively.
Duncan Jones' direction is tight and exciting, and the technical values are top-notch ranging from Don Burgess's magnificent cinematography to Chris P. Bacon's thunderous music score.
Still it's a shame that Duncan Jones tends to go overboard with the concept. The final third act is particularly a turn-off, not to mention how confusing the story has become. It's actually a twist, but not the pull-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat kind of shocking twist but rather something low-key. It's still unexpected but it's also served as the movie's little downfall it feels anticlimactic.
Few flaws aside, SOURCE CODE is one of the most exciting science-fiction genres ever seen in a long while since Christopher Nolan's INCEPTION.
A bonus for science fiction fans: Scott Bakula appears in a voiceover as Colter's father during the phone conversation in which he mentions the word "Oh Boy", his trademark line from his 1989's iconic TV series, Quantum Leap. That series, of course, shares the similar pattern to SOURCE CODE here.