A director’s second feature length film is often times a better arbiter of where there career is heading than there fast. Anyone, it seems, can make one good film. A truly great director can follow up a brilliant opener with a second film that’s of high quality. Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino have, armfuls of others have not. Which makes Duncan Jones’ follow up to Moon intriguing on any number of levels. Moon was a cerebral science fiction film in a genre that was more open to big space operas in the wake of Star Wars than small, intellectually-based films. Duncan Jones could’ve done any number of films, including a sequel to Moon which he plans on mounting, but instead took no another intellectual thriller with sci-fi implications in Source Code.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has eight minutes to figure out where a bomb has been placed on a train to prevent another from going off. If he doesn’t find it, he’ll have to keep repeating the task until he finds it. This isn’t a training exercise, though. Stevens is locked inside the mind of another man, reliving the final eight minutes of that man’s life as part of an Army mission led by a stern boss (Vera Farmiga) and a doctor (Jeffrey Wright). Every time he fails he comes back to see Christina (Michelle Monaghan) across from him and having the same conversation with her, everything refreshed back to its original place as he starts anew. He has only one way out of this: solve the mystery and prevent even further chaos.
A brilliant concept, Jones certainly hasn’t taken an easy route for his second film. This is a complicated film that requires a lot of nuance because you’re combining core science-fiction concepts wrapped around a pulp style detective plot of sorts. He could’ve probably taken any number of more standard genre projects but Jones is crafting a niche in the same way Reitman has. Reitman’s niche has been character-centric pieces and Jones has seemingly found his: the intellectual thriller. Jones takes difficult material, material almost straight from a Philosophy 400 course, and meshes it into something easy to digest. And much like Moon, where he got a great performance out of his lead actor (Sam Rockwell), Jones pushes Jake Gyllenhaal to a nuanced and top notch genre performance.
Gyllenhaal works best when he has character-oriented pieces, as opposed to more genre style films, and needs a director willing to push him. His best performances have come from directors who can do this and Jones really pushes to get more than just a standard genre performance from him. It’s in the way he reacts to what’s going down and the sort of passion he brings to the role that we care about him trying to find out the real bomber. His misfires matter because we get emotionally invested in the character early and stay there. But the film’s best performance comes from his co-star, Michelle Monaghan.
Completely overlooked despite a brilliant performance in Trucker, Monaghan has a difficult role. She mainly has to keep doing the same scene the exact same way throughout the film, with no room to grow as a character. She’s set because she can’t have any significant character arc; she’s a construct and not someone who gets to be developed in any meaningful way. Yet each time it’s repeated exactly the same. Christina is a sweet woman whom reacts in the same style to all of her friend’s increasingly different behavior. It’s a difficult role because there’s no room for error in it. One has to give her credit for being able to keep doing so and keep it from feeling repetitive at any point.
They call it a “sophomore slump” for many directors who never hit the heights of a first brilliant film. Source Code is validation to Duncan Jones that Moon wasn’t a fluke.
Director: Duncan Jones Notable Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Russell Peters Writer(s): Ben Ripley
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.