In a coincidence unseen since the likes of Dante’s Peak and Volcano, not one, but TWO body-snatching time-travel stories have been released within days of each other. You already know what we think of the other one. What about Duncan Jones’ follow-up to his big screen debut Moon? Well I’m getting there, hold yer horses~
Colter Stevens is a very confused man. He’s a helicopter pilot for the American military working in Afghanistan, but one day he wakes up on a train talking to a beautiful woman he’s never met before who seems to recognize him. Wondering what the hell is going on, he makes it to the restroom only to find that a stranger is staring back at him in the mirror. He barely has enough time to process this before the train blows up, killing everyone on board.
Gosh, what a short movie! But wait, Colter wakes up alone, trapped in a pod. A woman appears on a monitor asking him who blew up the train. He has no idea, so she tells him he’ll have to go back again, trying to determine who it was that caused the explosion and how. And so he is somehow sent back into the train, into another man’s body, forced to relive the tragedy again and again until he’s discovered the cause behind it all.
I found the subject matter to be incredibly intriguing. There’s so many places it could go from a premise like that! Is it an action-y take on Groundhog Day? A science fiction movie dealing with quantum theory and parallel universes? A fancy Twilight Zone episode? A romantic drama stealthily disguised by its genre trappings? A little of all of them, actually. And shockingly enough, it works! The tension necessary to keep the premise interesting after the first few spins through the scenario is able to be maintained through some entertaining red herrings. There’s also the added depth that (possibly) was unintended by the screenwriter, of the movie being a bit of a metaphor for the PTSD flashbacks that military servicemen are suffering through after serving in the war on terror.
But as entertaining as the movie is, I can’t help but feel that Source Code could’ve been more. My main complaint about Moon, if you’ll remember, was that it was good, not great. And I so desperately wanted it to be great. The same applies to Duncan Jones’ sophomore effort. He’s capable enough to assemble a good script, good actors (why don’t we see Jeffery Wright in more movies?!) and execute it all for peanuts compared to other bloated science fiction efforts. But the movie almost never breaks through to become something truly great that I can be passionate about. After leaving the theater, I wasn’t stunned by the movie’s quality, just satisfied.
I would worry about Duncan Jones becoming just another director cranking out solid but unspectacular movies, but something in Source Code gives me hope. The emotional climax of the piece delivers a moment of grace sublime enough that it frankly disappointed me when the movie continued (although I can see why it had to). But it let me know that the potential was there for Jones to step up to the plate and mature as a filmmaker, similar to the way that I didn’t really obsess over Christopher Nolan until The Prestige forced me to re-evaluate him. Hopefully Jones can get there in fewer than five movies, though.