For the second week in a row I find myself at a loss for words upon seeing the week’s big film. The difference between this and Sucker Punch is that I had much more initial pleasantries to say about Source Code, albeit I was just as dumbfounded. Looks like it’s another job for my thinking cap.
The film continues the wave of interesting concept films of Inception and The Adjustment Bureau, choosing to play with time and memories. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens, a soldier who wakes up in the body of another man seated on a doomed train. As the train explodes his mind moves back to his body safely contained in a different location, where he is reminded of his mission. Long story short it is his job to relive the last 8 minutes on the train prior to the explosion, hoping to find some clue that will prevent a second attack on the nearby city of Chicago.
With the over-the-top impending doom, old-school spy / horror film score playing us in as the camera sweeps over Chicago, cutting in shots of the train with the overused bird’s eye view of the city, things don’t really start out too promising, but before long Source Code remembers that it doesn’t suck and ditches all things lame. Well mostly, but I’ll get to that in a bit. With the credits out of the way we jump into the story at just as much of a loss as Stevens is upon awakening in the body of Sean Fentress. But the confusion doesn’t last long, and once Stevens returns back to his body we are informed of his mission and what the Source Code is.
To explain it to the best of my geeky abilities without giving anything away, Source Code is a mix of the Animus in Assassin’s Creed (the ability to relive memories) and PreCrime in Minority Report (the ability to prevent crimes from happening), which is not too shabby of a pool to pull from. What it lacks of these two is the grand scale of the open world; however, the confines of the train are not enough to bring on a lack of entertainment as Stevens has to relive the same 8 minutes over and over as he tries to hunt down the terrorist on the train. With the help of Gyllenhaal (who gives an amazing performance here as usual), Duncan Jones is able to create something that never feels as repetitive as the events of the story. Instead it plays out as a parallel universe and not so much as simply reliving a memory, allowing the situation to always feel fresh as we are drawn into the mystery of the doomed train. Granted, the way in which they are able to surprisingly sneak in humor as he lather, rinse, and repeats sure keeps things fresh, and I couldn’t help but be sad as we sit through a montage at one point instead of getting to see Gyllenhaal play each attempt out.
Though the majority of the film is a compelling story with a strong base character to root for (even though the fate of the train is already known), it does have a few flaws. For starters, in addition to Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga’s sympathetic characters, Jeffrey Wright is given the short end of the stick as Dr. Rutledge, who seems to dip into a Morpheus impression as the creator of the Source Code and lesser of the characters, possibly created solely for exposition and to force a debate of ethics involving the use of the program. With that aside the biggest flaw becomes the structure of the flow of the film, in the sense that following the first four or so runs through the cycle the film seems to almost cut itself off at the knees with its placement of a key plot point, and it is your connection and willingness to continue on with Stevens that will factor in heavily with how well the film sits with you when it’s over, especially with the curveball of an ending.
Though I still question the end of the film and whether or not it might have been better to have cut it short at one of the other possible endings (especially considering the last feeling rather tacked on), Source Code is still an amazing film with an interesting concept to boot, as long as you are willing to tag along for the latter 3rd of the film and connect the dots in your mind when all is said and done.
Final Grade: B+