The Films of Duncan Jones
Moon (June 30/09)
Duncan Jones' feature-length debut, Moon follows astronaut Sam Bell as he nears the end of a three-year stint working aboard an isolated base on the title planet - where he is overseeing an effort to send precious resources back to Earth. It's an incredibly spare premise that's employed to unexpectedly enthralling effect by Jones, as the filmmaker does a superb job of establishing the central character's relatively rundown environs - with the movie's initial lack of plot hardly as problematic as one might've surmised, thanks primarily to Rockwell's compelling, downright hypnotic performance. The actor effortlessly transforms Sam into a figure that the viewer can't help but root for and sympathize with, which certainly goes a long way towards creating (and maintaining) an atmosphere of suspense that ultimately belies the movie's low-key sensibilities. Rockwell's strong work would, of course, be rendered moot were it not for Jones' consistently compelling directorial choices, as the film's refreshingly minimalist visuals are complemented by Tony Noble's jaw-dropping production design and Clint Mansell's appropriately eerie score. The well-placed inclusion of several impossible-to-predict plot twists - courtesy of screenwriter Nathan Parker - ensure that the movie's inevitable transformation from drama to thriller is just about seamless, and it's finally clear that Moon represents one of the most entertaining and flat-out engrossing sci-fi efforts to hit theaters since Steven Soderbergh's woefully underrated 2002 Solaris remake.
Directed by Duncan Jones, Source Code follows American soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he's recruited for a new program that will allow him to live out the last eight minutes of another man's life - with Colter's first assignment to determine just who placed a deadly explosive aboard a commuter train. It's an unapologetically off-kilter premise that's employed to consistently watchable effect by Jones, as the filmmaker, working from Ben Ripley's screenplay, does an effective job of balancing the Groundhog Day-esque central storyline with the inherently compelling mystery behind Colter's situation (ie how did he get into that pod and what's the deal with the folks responsible for the technology?) Gyllenhaal's incredibly (yet typically) engaging performance plays an instrumental role in heightening the suspense of his character's perilous situation, and it does become increasingly difficult not to root for Colter's efforts at both discovering the identity of the bomber and saving the life of his train-bound love interest (Michelle Monaghan's Christina). The entertainingly slick atmosphere is, as a result, not as problematic as one might've feared, although, given the strength of Jones' debut, Moon, the film's less-than-memorable feel is admittedly somewhat disappointing (with Chris Bacon's bland score undoubtedly standing in sharp contrast to Clint Mansell's stirring, downright indelible contribution to Moon). The needlessly (and almost inexplicably) upbeat conclusion cements Source Code's place as an unapologetic crowd-pleaser, which is fine, certainly, but it's impossible not to have expected something a little more substantial from Jones.