Duncan Jones was on my on-to-watch list ever since Moon, 2009's best and also probably most under-appreciated film. With Source Code, a bigger budget and more visible film than the last, it is heartening to see that Jones keeps his heart and storytelling skills while adding a few new narrative tics that embellish him as a film-maker.
Just like Moon, Source Code is a story told in a confined area, yet epic in scope; accentuated with a terrific music score and fulgurous visuals. Similarly it uses science fiction for the best purposes - explore human emotions and themes while keeping a good yarn going.
The big difference is that Source Code requires a leap of faith. To keep it spoiler-free, the best I can tell you about the movie is that Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter, a soldier who is inserted into the body of a man on a train that exploded a few hours ago. Some doodad lets the government track the past eight minutes at a time, and he must use this time to track down the bomber to know his next target. He also is trying to save a woman who has also died in the crash.
Yes, I know, it's a bit much. To be fair to the film, each new piece of technology that it unravels is given some room and brought in after the previous one has had time to establish itself in the workings of the plot. It is leisurely paced in terms of introducing new themes, but kinetically fast when it chooses to shove Colter from one situation into another.
The leap of faith Jones asks you to take is immense, but is deeply rewarding. The deal with the Devil here is this: you don't question science's ability to do what Jones says it does, and he will give a richly-layered film that will make you ponder on the nature of isolation, mortality, identity, and the transient relationship with what we call reality.
You take that leap, and it's a film that is as cerebral as it is thrilling. The action cuts fast and frequently, and the direction is always immediate and visceral. It looks and sounds great, and the nail-biting climax completely blows you away. Of course the ending is the reason why Jones is working so hard. The end is likely going to be the most divisive - it is a cheat, but it is utterly satisfying. The director, the actors and the plot work very hard to together deserve the resolution, but it is still implausible.
The actors do their darndest to earn this one - Gyllenhaal is ready and raring, given a role to really give it his all, and he doesn't disappoint. Vera Farmiga is amazing and so is Jeffrey Wright - two people behind the operation and the technology. Their portrayal really sells their character, and you want to see them again and again as the film cuts back to the train.
Ultimately, though, this is Jones delivering an accomplished vision with a satisfying story and an emotionally rich universe. Your enjoyment may vary based on whether you are willing to suspend your disbelief yourself or not, but even for the non-believers, this remains a strong film.