Review by C.J. Bunce
My best reaction to movies comes from those films that are not over-hyped, and that have trailers that do not show too much of a film’s content. Examples are Inception and Avatar, two movies that were so hyped that by the time I saw them I was disappointed. Not so for Source Code. Source Code is so innovative and interesting that you may keep talking about it, keep thinking about the different elements, the different choices made and possibilities the story reveals. If they only made sequels to movies like this.
For one, my favorite sci-fi movie subject involves alternate realities, whether they are parallel timelines, time loops, time travel, or alternate histories. On a basic level you will encounter time loops, a discussion topic from earlier this week, and you may encounter other alternate reality topics in Source Code. Despite its title, it is not a computer techno-romp like The Net. That’s a good thing.
Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a man on a train who appears out of nowhere and believes he is an American soldier whose last memory was fighting a battle in Afghanistan. He is pulled out and replaced into a confined space, and from the trailer we know this place is a train that has a destiny with some type of horrible explosion. Like Unstoppable, reviewed earlier here, only a handful of characters and tight locations are necessary to tell this tale. The grandiosity of the typical blockbuster is not necessary here to deliver fast-paced action and harrowing circumstances for Gyllenhaal and co-star Michelle Monaghan, and uniquely difficult decisions for a project leader played by Vera Farmiga. The is a small film, but high concept.
Gyllenhall fails to disappoint. Joining Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis, his films always deliver. His acting project choices, like this film, will hopefully continue to propel his career forward. Like his character in Zodiac, the suspense mystery about the search for the real-life Zodiac serial killer, his character in this film struggles with confidence, angst, and a desire to break out of his confinement, his lot. His performance here is as equally exciting as his acclaimed role as a troubled youth in Donnie Darko.
Source Code contains traditional sci-fi elements, to the point you would swear this was based on a Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury story. It has the feel of a classic sci-fi story. Like with Bruce Willis’s Twelve Monkeys, Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens is a traveller, not by choice, not in the way we all dream about what you could do if time travel were possible. Like characters in Connie Willis books (To Say Nothing of the Dog, Lincoln’s Dreams, Doomsday Book, All Clear) Stevens has a mission to complete, but not all is as it appears. Rounding out the key characters of the story is Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), a lead actor type who is always equally solid in a supporting role as “the man behind the curtain.” Look for the voice of Scott Bakula as Stevens’ father, not entirely coincidental considering this Quantum Leap-inspired quest. And see how this could be considered another borg story, not unlike The Six Million Dollar Man.
Source Code could be compared with the Matrix, but Source Code is much better, much smarter, and more compelling. As with movies like War of the Worlds, you are forced to ask yourself “what would I do if I suddenly awoke in Stevens’ shoes?” Directed by Duncan Jones, this film does not follow any typical pattern and the story begins in the middle of the action, like a lot of TV shows, such as Heroes, have been filmed in recent years. The pace works really well here. You may be able to stay ahead of the action and decisions a few times throughout the movie, but I’d wager no one could predict the branches the story ultimately follows. What contributes to the gravity of the characters’ situations is the believability of the circumstances in our current era of varying colored alerts.
While you’re buckling down for Irene to arrive this weekend, you could do a lot worse than renting Source Code on DVD or Blu-Ray. Source Code’s creative story, action, and good acting earn 4.5 of 5 stars. This may have fared even better in theaters, because so many details contribute to the story understanding that even on a decent size small screen you may miss some of these bits and pieces.