reviews\ Mar 30, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Source Code Review


Looking back on the last eight minutes of someone's life could say a lot about the kind of person they were. Imagine if the government had the technology to use an “echo” of these final moments to learn about terrorist acts, using the insight to stop future attacks. It’d be pretty fantastic! This is what the movie Source Code tries to do--dig into the last thoughts and actions of the deceased and save the future. Of course, nothing is ever that simple, and Source Code emphasizes personal sacrifice and the consequences of fiddling with a technical past.

The movie starts with Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) waking up in a Chicago commuter train, where a beautiful woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) chats away about her ex-boyfriend and her future plans. Bewildered, Stevens soon learns that he is not who he thinks he is, but rather a school teacher. Freaking out like any other person might, Stevens is confronted by Christina only for the train to explode suddenly, killing Stevens and everyone on board.

Stevens then wakes up in a metallic simulation pod and talks with Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) via webcam. She’s clearly military, but is slow to feed out the details. Stevens is confused and stressed, and the last thing he remembers is being a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. Goodwin and her superior, the bookish Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), explain the situation: A commuter train outside of Chicago exploded earlier that morning, killing everyone on board. They fear that another explosion is imminent, but by using quantum mechanics (which they oddly call “source code") they can send Stevens into the mind of a schoolteacher who died in the crash. The technology only allows Stevens to reenter the last eight minutes of a person’s life. They pressure Stevens to reenter the train and determine the identity of the bomber under this strict deadline.

What we are presented is a thrilling version of Groundhog’s Day fused with Capcom’s Ghost Trick video game. It appears the technology behind the “source code” is entering different timelines, not really going back in time. Stevens dies again and again, only to be brought back into the small simulation chamber and interrogated by these mysterious military personnel. He can’t get out of the pod, and the tension rises between what is actually happening with him and the race to find the bomber in real life. He may not be able to change the past, but he can protect the future.

Without giving too much away (Source Code is full of plot twists and changes), let's just say there is more going on than initially expected. The end, while not bad, is a little mushy in the details and doesn’t quite click, but it doesn’t detract from the film so much as offer moviegoers something to talk about as they walk to their cars. As a whole, Source Code takes a traditional time travel idea and turns it on its head.

Director Duncan Jones, known for his work on the under-appreciated Moon, has done an amazing job of translating Ben Ripley’s screenplay into a tight and exciting film. Gyllenhaal brings a sense of sweetness and enthusiasm to Stevens, although the movie is so breakneck fast that perhaps more credit should be placed upon Jones’ fantastic directing and editing than Gyllenhaal’s acting. Monaghan is jubilant and light, but her acting (often repeated over and over) better serves as a foil to Stevens as he tries to play detective.

Source Code could have hired many charming actors and pretty ladies, for there is an odd sense of disembodiment here. While the horror of the explosion is disturbing, it’s so displaced from the actions of Stevens that it becomes a mere foil for his internal anguish. It’s a very interesting technique, an Inception-esque method of internalizing the external.

Source Code isn't what I would call an award-winning film, but it is an incredibly smart one that expects audiences to keep up. Arriving this spring, Source Code is a film well worth the time.


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