Source Code is the second feature from Duncan Jones, director of the sci-fi thriller Moon. His first movie was shot on a modest budget of $5 million, and while this cost an estimated $30 million more, retains somewhat of a “shot on a budget” feel about it – which is not a bad thing in Jones’ hands. With an interesting premise dealing with trying to change the events of the past, Jones cleverly uses the same sets over and over again to great effect, creating a kind of cinematic claustrophobia that matches how boxed in his character feels.
The story is this: a terrorist detonates a bomb on a passenger train, and announces that a second, more devastating bomb will be set off soon after. A special scientific enterprise attempts to uncover the perpetrator through a cutting-edge technique that allows Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) to access the past through the memory of one of the victims on the train. But because the brain only retains 8 minutes of information, that is the time window Stevens has to uncover the truth – revisiting the same period over and over again. But as the captain uncovers details of about the terrorist plot, he also uncovers some disturbing information about himself.
Time travel stories always abound with problems, and Source Code requires a heightened suspension of disbelief in order to buy into the conceit: e.g. how does the victim’s memories contain an entire reality for Captain Stevens to interact with? Fortunately Jones had the sense to ensure that none of these were critical to the main plot, so they’re easily dispensed with, leaving a compelling character-driven story that dares to appeal to the intellect and ask complex moral questions.