Moon was a promising film. A movie that showed that Duncan Jones was a director who valued ideas over action and character over spectacle. A rarity in any modern day filmmaker, let alone one who seemed bent on working in a genre as occasionally willfully stupid as modern sci fi.
Source Code fulfills that promise and then some. It’s a well made piece of human scaled science fiction. Telling another story of a man used as a spare part for the greater good by uncaring forces. Doing his best to retain his humanity in the process.
If you’ve seen the trailer, the film’s admittedly high concept is laid out pretty well. Gyhellenhall is a soldier sent through the memories of a man killed in a terrorist attack, in the hopes that he will find the perpetrator before a promised follow up attack can be executed. As Gyhellenhall continues to go back, he finds that the invention has some unexpected consequences. Of which I will say no more, except to add that it’s nice to see a film fully explore the implications of its premise. Not merely with the clever set pieces that the film dreams up with its central mechanic (which mostly involves Gyhellenhaal as Wiley Coyote stand in finding new and ever inventive ways to do himself grievous bodily injury) but in other matters as well. The ideas in Source Code may not be particularly deep, but the film takes them seriously to its credit. All the while remaining a tense, kinetic thriller to boot.
The film cuts between Gyhellenahall’s attempts on the train and the chamber where the source code is fed to him, in contact with his commanding officers only through a few computer monitors. The chamber itself is an ingenious piece of production design. A Gilliamesque, claustrophobic nightmare filled with nothing but steel, straps, plate glass, bolts, loose wires and other things designed to make human beings feel distinctly uncomfortable.
Perhaps the biggest difference between this and Moon is the chance it gives Jones to show his knack with actors. Moon was for all intents and purposes a one man show. In Source Code Jones coaxes some great performances from the ever charming Michelle Monaghan, a sinister Jeffery Wright, Gyhellnhaal himself and Vera Farmingon filling the Kevin Spacey role (as another keeper whose first name begins with G and begins to have more sympathy for her charge than for her employers.)
Moon promised that Jones was a filmmaker of profound humanism capable of creating an atmosphere of great disquiet as well as a knack for visuals more stunning than showy. Source Code more than fulfills that promise. It might not do anything that Moon didn’t, aside from proving that Jones can work with a larger scale and cast (Moon could have practically been a one man one set play) but it proves that that early film was no one off. Jones is a filmmaker who will be telling us stories for years to come, and I for one can’t wait.