4.5 out of 5 stars
I just had an hour long debate with my roommate, and my brain is still swimming in the aftermath. The topics we covered ranged from quantum physics, to time travel, to parallel universes, to the afterlife. All of it was in service of trying to better understand the movie we just walked out of, Source Code, and I think it’s safe to say when a mere film can spark such lively conversation, it’s one that’s worthwhile to see.
Source Code strikes a delicate balance between action adventure, science-fiction, and philosophical musing. It’s the second film from Duncan Jones, whose first effort, Moon, covered the latter two of those as well, but adding in explosions doesn’t Michael Bay the man’s talent at all. Nice to see that the son of David Bowie (for real) is making a name for himself on his own merit.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a very confused soldier named Captain Colter Stevens, dropped in the middle of a very confusing mission. He wakes up on a train in someone else’s body, and scrambles around to figure out what the hell is happening to him. He fails to do so, and the train explodes.
He wakes up in a isolation pod as himself, and has been informed that he’s part of an experimental project meant to save lives. He’s being plugged into the “Source Code,” the still-firing synapses that exist in the human brain post-mortem. He’s re-living the last eight minutes of a teacher named Sean Fentriss’s life aboard a train that earlier today exploded via a terrorist’s bomb. Another threat is imminent, and many more will die if he does not keep reliving these eight minutes to identify both the bomb and the person who put it there.
It’s a harder mission to execute than you might imagine, and in his investigation, Stevens is blown up, run over and shot, events that surge him back to reality. Time is of the essence, and he constantly battles between focusing on the mission at hand, and finding out more about this insane science project he’s apparently volunteered for.
That’s as much as the trailer would have you know, but there is a whole other side kept secret. There’s a great deal more to the project than what Stevens is told, and the mystery surrounding his own involvement is a major focal point of the film. Also, the implications of the Source Code project possibly go far deeper than even its creators realize, and this aspect is what will likely spark a long conversation with your friends after the credits roll.
That’s some poor wiring for a billion dollar project.
The film can best be compared to something like Primer, only while that film’s twisted, winding plot was inaccessible to almost everyone, Source Code‘s is a little easier to process, and there are no paradoxes of actual time travel to deal with. Stevens initially attempts to save the poor souls on the train, including Fentriss’ cute flirtatious friend (Michelle Monaghan), but is told that nothing he does in the Source Code matters, these people are already dead.
His journey through the repetitive eight minutes often resembles a different film, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray must live a truly perfect day to end the loop. Stevens only needs to find the bomber, but by the end his quest ends up being something quite similar to Murray’s.
Jake Gyllenhaal does a good job here, but he really doesn’t seem like the typical soldier type you’d find in a movie like this. Even when he’s yelling, he seems soft spoken, and “pretty eyes” normally aren’t something you’d notice about a tough military man in a top secret project. I think it’s good that he breaks a few armed forces stereotypes here, as the film wouldn’t have been nearly as humanized with someone hulking like Channing Tatum or Dwayne Johnson in the titular role. Gyllenhaal is a great actor, and without his performance, the film wouldn’t be what it is.
“Hell is being trapped in some guy’s body who decided to wear this horrible denim shirt.”
Monaghan plays the confused quasi-love interest well, but it’s really mission controller Vera Farmiga that shines in the other female role. Her communication with Gyllenhaal’s Captain Stevens creates some of the more poignant moments of the film, and her role ends up being of utmost importance in the mind-bending finale.
I did not appreciate the character of Dr. Rutledge, played by Jeffrey Wright, who is just that, a character. He’s the closest thing the film has to a villain, but seems infected with some sort of personality disorder that makes each of his lines awkward and over-pronounced, like he’s doing his best to channel The Lion King‘s Scar. He’s like a bizarro world version of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, and his acting is so over-the-top, it often takes you out of the moment with unintended laughter at a few of his lines.
The first two thirds of Source Code is a very decent action thriller with a sci-fi twist. The last third is what truly propels the film into greatness, as it touches on a host of philosophical issues you weren’t expecting to have to deal with in a movie likes this.
Duncan Jones is now two for two, and if he can keep picking projects like this one, he’s on his way to becoming a real auteur. If he stays away from the lure of superhero franchises , video game adaptations or ’80s movie reboots, and he’ll be on the road to glory.
4.5 out of 5 stars