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Quality science fiction propels ‘Source Code’

April 7th, 2011

Surely, there’s some genius thinking in director Duncan Jones’ “Source Code.” With a plot that combines “Groundhog’s Day” and “Adjustment Bureau,” the film is a deftly-made thriller that establishes a credible knowledge of great science fiction.

The story chronicles the bizarre mission of Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), who we first meet on a Chicago commuter train. He has no idea how he got there. Sitting across from him is Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who’s in the middle of a deep conversation. Yet Stevens doesn’t recognize her. He excuses himself to the train bathroom – where he doesn’t see his face in the mirror. Instead of his own reflection, he sees the face of a man named Sean Fentress. Before Stevens/Fentress can comprehend this revelation, the train explodes and kills everyone aboard.

Stevens comes to in a strange capsule where – via a video com-link with government scientists Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) – he learns his mission’s details.

The simplified mission is finding the bomber who blew up the commuter train before another bomb kills millions of Chicagoans in six hours.

Stevens’ consciousness is being sent into the now-dead Sean Fentress’ harvested brain, where he relives the last eight minutes of the dead man’s life before the explosion.

Stevens must relive Sean’s last minutes over and over again until he finds the bomber and helps the government stop the impending attack. This program is called the source code.

Of course, Stevens falls in love with Christina. While Rutledge continuously tells him that the source code isn’t time travel and therefore can’t change the past, Stevens is determined to save Christina – even though she’s already dead.

“Source Code” clearly understands and revels in its genre’s required intricacies. The explained scientific logic is surprisingly well-stated enough to allow suspension of disbelief, which obviously takes some serious thinking.

The scientific explanation is on par with “Star Trek” lore in making the impossible seem possible, at least for 93 minutes.

The film also shows the creative journey of a writer/director Jones on his way of becoming a directorial legend. This is Jones’ second film. His debut, 2008’s “Moon,” is one of the most original science fiction films since “Aliens.”

But while “Source Code” may match “Moon” in concept, it assuredly doesn’t in emotion.

One flaw in the newer of the two films is that it has nowhere near the emotional heft or sense of character that made “Moon” such a great film.

It’s strange that Gyllenhaal and Monaghan play such average characters considering Jones created an Oscar-worthy signature role for Sam Rockwell in “Moon.”

But even while being nowhere near as challenging as his debut, Jones does undertake some pretty profound sci-fi ideas.

What makes this film so fascinating is how the ending seems so open-ended. It is either one of the most faulty jumps in logic I’ve ever seen or one of the most ambitious science fiction concepts tackled in years.

This may not be Jones’ finest work, but it is further proof that Jones is a director we’ll be hearing from for many years. His storytelling tenacity is similar to Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Inglorious Basterds”) in how they all have, in some way, mastered their niche.

While the movie lacks great characters and is possibly too ambitious for mainstream audiences, “Source Code” is the first truly decent film of 2011 in offering a genuinely novel concept full of fresh and archetype thought.