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Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan star in Source Code.
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Source Code

Directed by Duncan Jones

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga

Rated PG-13

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Don’t let the title fool you into thinking that Source Code is a hacker movie, or even about anything remotely related to Course VI. “Source Code” refers to a fictional technology that lets people revisit the last eight minutes of a dead person’s life. In the wake of a bombing attack on a Chicago-bound train, the government sends Army Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) into the Source Code again and again to learn the identity of the bomber. Through repeated visits, Stevens falls for his fellow passenger Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) and tries to find a way to save her, even after repeatedly being told by his commanding officers (Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright) that it would be pointless. Source Code, they explain, is “not time travel, but time reassignment.” If that didn’t make sense, don’t worry, because it’s all quantum mechanics and “parabolic calculus.” Tricky stuff indeed.

The plot sounds run-of-the-mill and gimmicky, but in director Duncan Jones’ hands, it turns into a strong and compelling story. He handles the material with the confidence of a much more experienced director and relies on strong emotional storytelling to keep the movie going at a good pace. It’s surprising that this is only Jones’ sophomore effort, though fans of his first work, Moon, can attest to his skill as a filmmaker. Both films explore similar themes of the everyman versus the institution, the contrast between appearance and reality, and the attempts to fight the inevitable. The most noticeable difference between Moon and Source Code is merely the scale of production; in the latter, Jones puts his larger budget to good use by upgrading the film’s visuals.

Jones also gets plenty of help from the cast: the chronically underrated Farmiga lends great charisma to a potentially boring, desk-bound role, and Gyllenhaal and Monaghan — an incredibly charismatic duo — eagerly sell the story at even its most unbelievable moments. That isn’t to say that the script isn’t well-written; despite the overreaching plot, screenwriter Ben Ripley lends a sly wit that keeps the film energized all the way to the end credits. The clever dialogue, combined with punchy cinematography from Don Burgess, brings a new dimension to each repetition of the train bombing. The first few times Stevens endures the harrowing eight minutes before his “death,” it’s all quick cuts and anxiety; by the end, wide shots and wry exchanges with his fellow passengers indicate the confidence that his character has developed.

It’s rare to find a thriller as well-executed as Source Code these days. Duncan Jones will undoubtedly be compared to Christopher Nolan for his ability to weave such a strong emotional core into a big-budget action flick. (Jones was actually under consideration to direct the Nolan-produced Superman reboot, but turned it down out of worries that he wouldn’t meet viewers’ high expectations.) Source Code contains echoes of both Memento’s creative storytelling devices and Inception’s gutsy and ambitious plot. In fact, Source Code succeeds where Inception failed — placing the emphasis on convincing characters, rather than keeping the focus on a hole-ridden plot. Take note, Christopher Nolan.