So, Duncan Jones, we meet again. It's been a few years since you blessed us with 2009's Moon. But now you're back behind that director's chair, except this time you didn't write the story. You're working with someone else's art now. Let's see if you can still create genius your own.
Turns out he can't. It's still a good movie, don't get me wrong. It's just that this movie is too captivated by its own gimmick to allow Jones to be the auteur that he needed to be to make this film great. There are some poignant scenes here and there, but this thriller can't seem to be much more than that, a thriller. But enough vague blabbering at why this film doesn't work. We'll get to that later. First let's look at the good parts of this movie.
First, the gimmick works. Essentially experiencing the Cliff's Notes version of Goundhog's Day, Jake Gyllenhaal must find the perpetrator of a train bombing by entering the last eight minutes of one of the departed. This part of the movie works. Despite being the "same" eight minutes every time, there is enough variation, in fact a lot of it, to make each excursion into the "source code" an entertaining endeavor.
Second, the performances are solid. Gyllenhaal is believable as the confused, disoriented soldier who enters the Source Code as we do, in essence becoming a conduit for the audience until enough rules are established so that Gyllenhaal can form his character. Other performances of note include Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright. Actually, I'm still not sure if Jeffrey Wright's performance is annoyingly overacted or brilliantly so. The jury is still out.
But that's where this thing falls apart. It gets so caught up in the logistics of this source code pseudo-time travel business that there is no room for any real thematic statement. Sure, there is this tacked on Humanist stuff at the end, but none of it is set up anywhere near enough to justify itself. There were ample opportunities to do so, but they all seem to have been put on the back-burner in order to push the narrative forward. This is unfortunate.
I really, really wanted to like this movie. And I did. Just not as much as I wanted to. Source Code gets a "B+." In the end it was solid narratively, but lacked substance.
PS: I forgot to mention that Jake Gyllenhaal gets to go looney bin level crazy on unsuspecting train commuters on multiple occasions. That was probably the reason I'm inclined to give it a "B+" instead of a "B." It was brilliant to see that.