Director Duncan Jones‘ Moon (2009) was deliciously complex and intense. Source Code might be even better.
Largely because the cast is outstanding. Jake Gyllenhaal (Captain Colton Stephens) is a multi-faceted actor with remarkable range, but this could be his best performance. He gives the film gravitas and charisma.
Insofar as both layer their characters well, making it seem the women are better developed than they actually are, Michelle Monaghan (Christina Warren) and Vera Farmiga (Colleen Goodwin) shine almost as brightly.
Yet, Source Code’s scene stealer is Jeffrey Wright (Dr. Rutledge), who makes his borderline corrupt politican feel human, an accomplishment that is all the more remarkable given the exposition-heavy dialogue with which writer Ben Ripley saddles him.
The cast is not Source Code’s only strength. Ripley and Jones have keen emotional acuity. Though their film is plot-based, they develop their characters well and thereby create empathy.
Plus, they build tension and time information-reveals perfectly.
From a technical perspective, Source Code is excellent. Jones channels his inner Alfred Hitchcock, building suspense through editing, camera angles and sound design.
Moreover, the writer and director skillfully differentiate each of the eight minute sequences aboard a doomed train. This is the science fiction version of Groundhog Day (1993), a fact that risks repetitiveness, all the more so because there is so little humor. Source Code maintains interest, however, if only because secondary characters behave differently based on Captain Stephens’ actions, something that ensures each scene’s events are unique.
Narratively, the film isn’t quite perfect, though, mostly because the resolution is underexplained. Why do Stephens’ final actions work the way they do? We cannot answer that question.
All the same, I recommend this film without reservation. It is quite exceptional.