Have train, will time-travel

Author: ED GIBBS
Date: 08/05/2011
Words: 580
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: S
Page: 9
RETURNING to planet Earth, director Duncan Jones proves his neat, head-scratching debut was no fluke. Here, he's given a bigger budget and, after Sam Rockwell's stellar turn in Moon, an even bigger star. To top things off, the plot is so involved, you'll be forgiven for not taking it all in in one sitting.

Our hero, US military pilot Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal), is held in mysterious containment. His only point of contact: a video screen. From there, he receives instruction from a female captain named Goodwin (Farmiga) and the program's chief (Wright). His mission: to be projected back in time, into another man's body, to save commuters from a crazy terrorist. Eight minutes is all he has to find a bomb (and its maker) on a packed Chicago train. It's a task he must revisit over and over again, as he whittles down the suspects on board.

In lesser hands, this exercise in brain-twisting sci-fi could wind up a farce. But Jones (yes, his rather famous father, Mr Bowie, did sing about Major Tom) clearly has an obsessive zeal for the stuff. Plus, he's got a knack for casting. Gyllenhaal is superb as the confused, out-of-body pilot who's busily trying to save lives while also investigating his own fate. And, a few visual clues for sharp-eyed viewers aside, we're none the wiser, either.

Gyllenhaal doesn't have to go it alone, though. There's the welcome sight of Michelle Monaghan every time he reappears on the same train (giving any sane man a reason to smile), while the murky agenda makers at "mission control" (Farmiga, Wright) are both note-perfect. Up in the Air's Farmiga gives off a deliciously cold, almost robotic demeanour as the captain, while Wright twitches and shuffles like a mad genius in dire need of medicine. All have their own issues at work, which don't necessarily play out as one would think. You couldn't ask for a better cast.

Visually, too, Source Code works a treat, opting for a deft blend of Alfred Hitchcock-like noir (on the train) and James Cameron-infused sci-fi (in the facility). And, were it supremely confident of knowing when to show its trump card, the film could have gone even further.

Alas, as with Moon, there's a niggling feeling that something is missing. Nothing severe, but enough to make it strangely less satisfying than it should be. Perhaps this is merely a sign of Jones building his directorial experience, which he's doing at a rapid rate (he's being tipped to direct Hugh Jackman in the upcoming X-Men spinoff, Wolverine). Certainly, while writer Ben Ripley helps deliver the goods for much of this charged, Groundhog Day-inspired thriller, the finale doesn't deliver in the way one might expect (or hope).

For the most part, though, this inventive film works extremely well. The thing's got plenty of heart and soul to make one will Stevens on. And there's some amusing cameos thrown in for good fun, if you can find them. Once the director solves his own riddle of knowing exactly when to show his hand to his audience, he could well prove unstoppable. He's certainly making films that challenge the big studio pictures head-on. Now he's got one lined up himself, it will be very interesting to see how things pan out. For now, while the man's Achilles heel may bother him somewhat, Source Code is great fun and well worth unlocking. ED GIBBS




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