“Theorising that one could travel within his own lifetime, Dr Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator…and vanished”. Such were the memorable opening lines to the introduction of Quantum Leap, the cult sci-fi series which saw a scientist leaping through time “striving to put right what once went wrong”.
The makers of Source Code were obviously big fans of the series as it plays out in a similar vein, with a dash of Groundhog Day and a sprinkling of 24 thrown in for good measure. We follow Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a US helicopter pilot who awakes in the body of a commuter on a busy passenger train. He sits opposite Christina, (Michelle Monaghan) as he tries to make sense of his surroundings. Eight minutes later, the train explodes and he finds himself in a small containment cell.
Here he’s told he’s part of the Source Code project which allows him to relive the last eight minutes of someone’s life. His mission, whether he likes it or not, is to find the bomb on the train and find the terrorist responsible before he strikes again and a dirty bomb explodes in downtown Chicago.
Duncan Jones made everyone sit up and take notice when he made Moon last year, a quietly accomplished sci-fi starring Sam Rockwell as a man alone on a space station. Source Code represents his leap to the big time and with a bigger cast and a much bigger budget, he’s graduated with full honours.
Its well-constructed plot leaves Colter reliving the same eight minutes again and again, all the while finding out more about the girl opposite him and inching ever closer to finding out who is the real threat. In a world which only exists in the past and is necessarily destroyed after eight minutes, it’s a credit to Duncan Jones that he skilfully manages its doomed passengers emotionally compelling.
This is largely thanks to solid performances from its supporting cast. The reliably excellent Vera Farmiga makes the most of her limited uniformed role back at base; emotion eventually showing behind her icy blue eyes. Michelle Monaghan is also an appealing enough presence to make a romance with her believable in the short time that Colter has and Jeffrey Wright has great fun hamming it up as the genius behind the project – Felix Leiter upgraded to Bond villain at the stroke of a pen.
Fundamentally though, Source Code is about Colter’s subjective experiences (Which reality is real? Is it possible to break out of Source Code into a different world while still being asleep somewhere else?) and therefore the weight of the film rest squarely of Gyllenhaal’s shoulders. After fiddling around with time in the lacklustre Prince Of Persia, he delivers a much more competent performance, effectively blending action man and every man.
There are occasional moments of over-sentimentality which grate on an otherwise great script. Colter is keen to speak to his father, so he makes several calls to try and get in touch with him (an emotional diversion excused by an absolutely brilliant cameo – keep your ears peeled) and the budding romance with Christina predictably becomes his driving force for him wanting to rewrite the laws of quantum mechanics.
With all this time travel, there are the inevitable paradoxes which crop up. However, examining these and drawing your own conclusions is a large part of its charm, something that will keep you arguing in the pub long after the film’s finished. Source Code might not have the understated elegance of Moon but it’s an exciting, well-constructed and taut sci-fi thriller which proves that Duncan Jones has the chops for big as well as small budget fare.