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'Source Code' an engaging sci-fi thriller

Article Published: Apr. 7, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Source Code' an engaging sci-fi thriller

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan star in 'Source Code.'

Duncan Jones is two for two.

The newish director has only two feature film titles to his credit, and he's already taught Hollywood a lesson that'll probably be ignored: Less is more.

Jones ("Moon") aims right for the heart of cinema - character. Special effects take the backseat to story, serving to complement rather than dominate, and, by golly, it's refreshing.

By focusing on character, Jones delivers something all audiences can relate to, whether they like it or not - humanity. It's a quality missing from most mainstream sci-fi features, forsaking decent storytelling for herky-jerky camera movement and computer-generated everything.

Jones' latest, "Source Code," keeps the adrenaline pumping without those all-too-common gimmicks, conveying suspense and an altogether gripping story through effective writing, capable direction and standout performances from its leads.

Jake Gyllenhaal ("Brothers") is soldier Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan who wakes up on a Chicago-bound commuter train.

To make matters more confusing, the other passengers, including the woman who's apparently accompanying him, Christina (Michelle Monaghan, "Due Date"), think he's someone else.

In somewhat of a panic, Colter rushes to lavatory and, to his surprise, sees someone else's face in the mirror, a la "Quantum Leap." And then the train erupts in flames, killing all on board.

Colter awakes in a dark room, even more confused than before. Via video feed, Air Force Capt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air") and scientist Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright, "Casino Royale") explain that a passenger train was bombed that morning, and that Colter is involved in an experimental project called "Source Code," which allows participants to leap into another's identity in the last eight minutes of that person's life.

Colter's mission is to identify the bomber to prevent further attacks. As such, he must relive the incident repeatedly, gathering clues and identifying suspects on each go-around.

But his return to reality is just as jolting, and he begins to suspect something's amiss with the project itself. Constantly kept in the dark, Colter begins to question his involvement in the mission, along with whether or not his actions in the Source Code can have tangible results.

Like an inconceivably clever cross between "Quantum Leap" and "Groundhog Day," "Source Code" is witty, thought-provoking and engaging all throughout.

Gyllenhaal more than makes up for the dismal "Love and Other Drugs" with a winning and likeable performance, with excellent support from Monaghan, Farmiga and Wright.

Written by relative newcomer Ben Ripley, the film plays like an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone" with a generous dose of Hitchcock - right down to the ominous score by Chris Bacon ("Gnomeo and Juliet") and sweeping cinematography from Don Burgess ("Forrest Gump").

It's a shining example of big-budget filmmaking done right and, hopefully, a sign of more to come from one of cinema's newest and most promising directors.

"Source Code," rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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