With the number of remakes and reboots and adaptations going around Hollywood, it isn't everyday that a film emerges with something relatively original and creative, except perhaps for the science fiction genre when it creates its own rules to play by. Duncan Jones proves he's no fluke with Moon, coming up with an equally entertaining and engaging Source Code that has Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role as military man Colter Stevens who finds himself in a groundhog day type of situation, tasked with a mission of investigating and stopping a bomb from exploding on a commuter train headed for Chicago, failing which he has to "die" together with its passengers, again and again.
The less said about the film, the better because letting slip any plot points no matter how minor would be a huge disservice to an audience. Suffice to say that Stevens has to achieve his mission objectives in a race against time, all 8 minutes of it, based upon a program created by Jeffrey Wright's Dr Rutledge that taps on the final collective memories of victims in any disaster, where an investigator can somehow find himself in the body of one of the victims and be at the recreated scene of the crime, interacting in a simulated environment to discover clues and of course, perpetrators. It's an extremely sexy scenario that provides a leg up in any investigations should something along the same lines get translated to reality - imagine scores of crime being solved, and being a powerful tool in the fight against terrorism.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays his character with aplomb, resigning to knowing he cannot get answers from his handler Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) unless he delivers with each cycle some intelligence and findings, while at the same time getting attracted to Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) through the identity he assumes. The love story snuck in was a nice little touch, as does the backstory of who Stevens is, and how he gets himself into where and what he is currently into now. Things start to pick up when Stevens becomes situationally aware and desires to take control over his own fate.
The visual effects here didn't go overboard and Jones knows exactly the limits required before they take over and overshadow the strength of the story. It's less gimmicky, with more detail to attention given to the host of supporting characters and series of events going inside the train, and covering a lot more aspects of the expansive simulated world that addresses some of the major issues that could have made plot loopholes, but thankfully didn't.
But the downside which I prefer to overlook because it doesn't detract the viewer from the experience, involves accepting the reality that the filmmakers present to you. If you do not buy into the paradox of time travel, then you won't enjoy any time travel movies, and the same applies here if you aren't a big fan of alternate realities - there's the world that everyone exists in the main narrative, and a recreated digital one that is used for investigations purposes, defined to exist only within the specified limits of an event centered around 8 minutes worth, and no direct line exists between the real world and the recreated one, except perhaps to send one into, and retrieve one out of.
The other minor disappointment involves what I thought to be pressures existing to have a Hollywoodized ending that perhaps would be more acceptable to mainstream audiences. There's a moment in time in the final act that would have closed the film nicely given the moral conscience and decency to provide proper closure, and I felt it would have been pitch perfect rather than to push the realm of an alternate reality even further. There has bound to be a cheat sheet somewhere that the story by Ben Ripley decided to pull out to allow scenes to run and continue into the final few minutes that were quite unnecessary, if only to wrap things up in a more hopeful, and expectedly straightforward manner. Some implausibilities that broke its own rules on collective memories however do provide for post-movie discussion, especially if one's stance were to centre around one of the most powerful abilities of the mind known as imagination, and the desires to hear just what one wants to.
Still, Source Code belongs up there amongst contemporary science fiction stories that leaves you engrossed and engaged with every repeated cycle and turn in the story, and with excellent cast chemistry making it worth the ride. It presents something that isn't done to death already with that tinge of science fiction that looks like an attractive proposition to create in our world. Highly recommended as it goes into my shortlist of the best movies of the year thus far.