Source Code (2011)

30 Jan

© 2010 Vendome Pictures

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If I said “Source Code” was a mix between “Groundhog Day” and “Inception,” people might think I copied Richard Roeper’s first comment in his review. Good thing I actually checked out his review before I wrote mine. Actually, I’m thankful because I realize that saying a title is a mix of something and something, where does that leave the title I’m really referring to? Think about that. But seriously, “Source Code” is a strange, bewildering, and terrific science-fiction thriller with so many ideas, all of them intriguing.

As the movie opens, a man named Colter Stevens awakes from a nap and finds everything around him strange. So right away, we’re interested because he’s wondering the following: Why is he on this Chicago commuter train? Who is this lovely woman who apparently knows him? Why is she calling him “Sean?” And more importantly, why does he see another face looking back at him in the mirror of the restroom? All he knows is that his name is Colter Stevens and he’s a helicopter pilot. All we know is that he’s played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

It’s a mystery that I’m already interested in seeing solved. Without giving too much away from the story (actually, going by what the TV spots show), the train explodes with him on it. But wait! He awakens in a secret Army lab without a scratch. How can this be? Colter knows he’s himself again (and not “Sean”) and the people holding him know him as well. A scientist named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) talks to him and tells him that the train was destroyed by a terrorist bomb and is not the only one. Apparently, a bigger explosion is set for the middle of Chicago. Where does Colter fit into this? Well, the brain of one of the unfortunate souls on that train saved memories of the last eight minutes on the train before the explosion.

OK, so I can’t say why Colter himself is involved because it would give something in the plot away. What I’ve just written is the first fifteen minutes of the movie. But let me continue to say that the rest of the movie (I’m only setting a small description) features Colter as he relives the final eight minutes on the train before the explosion to find the bomb and identify the bomber. He has to do this until he gets it all right. And of course, with these multiple trips, Colter is experiencing it all over again, while the passengers always feel like this is the first time this happened.

So with that last statement, there’s the “Groundhog Day” distinction. With the futuristic technology that allows space travel, there’s the “Inception” distinction. There’s nothing wrong with that at all—this is fun. I’m excited and riveted. I’m racing along with the likable Colter, trying to piece together everything. Even if this technology doesn’t exist, it does seem plausible enough for this movie. This is the kind of science fiction film that is set with ideas. It’s not just special effects that are brought to the screen that impress us—it’s a sense of wonder and mystery that wins us over.

There’s a human element to “Source Code” in that Colter thinks about what it’d be like to have less than eight minutes to live. He wants to contact his father, with whom he hasn’t spoken in a long time. He also feels sympathy for the female passenger named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), “Sean’s” close friend who has had a crush on him for the longest time. Soon, through these multiple trips, Colter begins to care for her and feels like he should save her and change fate. He also gets to know some of the other passengers, including a comedian preparing for a show in Chicago, and sees that he can’t just let them die.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a solid lead—it should also be mentioned that he’s solving a more complicated mystery here than in “Donnie Darko.” We believe what he’s going through, mainly because we know as much as he does to begin with, but he’s also a stable anchor for a protagonist, showing a blend of cockiness and confusion. Michelle Monaghan is also good as the beautiful train passenger who is also living the same event over and over but just not noticing it and wondering what is going on with her friend lately (each time). How can you not like Michelle Monaghan? She’s a lovely woman and shows a lot of credibility as an actress. That can also be said for Vera Farmiga, who takes over with her strong presence every time she’s on screen.

“Source Code” is a powerful, ingenious thrill ride. Why wasn’t this released in the summer is beyond my understanding. Maybe it’s the length of 93 minutes, while other summer blockbusters are close to or over two hours in length. Maybe it’s the title, I don’t know. I do know that I wasn’t bored—there wasn’t one moment when I was checking my cell phone for the time. I was intrigued by everything on screen. I’m not quite sure I figured out everything that was resolved in the final half, but I will see it again to see if I can solve everything along the way.

NOTE: I have seen “Source Code” several other times since I wrote this review. I still have a bit of trouble trying to analyze every sci-fi element. I decided, let it be. It’s thrilling sci-fi. Deal with it.

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