Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens
Michelle Monaghan as Christina
Vera Farmiga as Carol Goodwin
Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Ruttledge
Russell Peters as Max Denoff
Michael Arden as Derek Frost
James A. Woods
Cas Anvar as Hazmi
Joe Cobden as Lab Technician
Nick Ferrin as Pedestrian
Gordon Masten as Conductor
Neil Napier as MP Officer
Susan Bain as Nurse
Brent Skagford as John Troxel
Directed by Duncan Jones
A double-decker train speeds through the outskirts of Chicago with Army helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) onboard in a body that’s not his own. When a bomb explodes killing everyone on the train, Stevens learns he’s been made part of an experimental military program called “Source Code” that sends him repeatedly back to the train to try and find the bomber, each time only having eight minutes to do so.
If this were the ’60s, “Source Code” may have been an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” but thank heavens it wasn’t, because exploring this sort of science fiction premise with a feature film budget allows “Moon” director Duncan Jones to create something that may seem like “Groundhog Day” meets “Final Destination” with a little “12 Monkeys” thrown in, but then quickly finding its own distinct identity.
There is so much in “Source Code” that would be too easy to spoil, but all you need to know is that Jake Gyllenhaal plays helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens, who has been assigned to a mission using new technology that allows him to jump into the body of a passenger on a train that was blown up by a terrorist. He can only enter that scenario for exactly eight minutes with orders to find the bomber and stop a much larger terrorist act, each time learning a bit more about the other people on the train, including his travel companion Christina, played by Michelle Monaghan. It may be surprising how entertaining it is to watch Gyllenhaal being thrown back into the same situation multiple times and see how he deals with what he has to work with, but even more impressive is how each of these jumps is kept visually interesting despite seeing many of the same events two or three times.
Working with a crew made up of names we haven’t seen on dozens of movies but whom all do a terrific job realizing Ben Ripley’s script, Jones creates a film that flows freely through a series of events while feeling less confined than “Moon.” The FX, especially the transitions in the jumps between the train and Colter’s “ship” for lack of a better term, are done well despite not having a huge budget with only a few CG moments that seem dodgy. Jones wisely avoids the trap of filling a movie with a soundtrack of hipster rock tunes, instead having composer Chris Bacon going for just the right blend of Bernard Hermann to create the tension of Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”
More than anything, “Source Code” is a film full of emotion as Jones gets as strong a performance out of Jake Gyllenhaal as he did with Sam Rockwell, Gyllenhaal ably fitting into the type of everyman protagonist role that helped Hitchcock’s thrillers work so well. You’re really pulled into Stevens’ dilemma as he interacts with his handler, played by Vera Farmiga, and tries to figure out how to fulfill his mission, while also using his military background to explore how real soldiers are affected by returning from war.
Monaghan is just as delightful as ever, keeping things from getting overly serious, the two actors having a romantic chemistry that feels more natural than forced. The only real weak link in the main cast is Jeffrey Wright as the eccentric scientist in charge of the Source Code program, and he puts a bit too much effort into being quirky and odd.
While movies like this often have trouble finding a way to wrap things up, just when you think it’s found the most emotionally-satisfying ending, it goes just one step further to leave things a little more open-ended. Even though this isn’t a movie about time travel per se, one needn’t waste too many brain cells trying to find the sort of anomalies normally created when playing around with big concepts like this, but it doesn’t take away from the overall experience.
The Bottom Line:
This is an impressive and ambitious second feature from Jones, one that shows he’s capable of handling a fairly complex premise with lots of moving parts. Like the best science fiction, “Source Code” is quite deep and affecting on many levels with a premise that never gets dull or predictable or feels gimmicky. It’s very much the type of movie one can see over and over again and appreciate more of its intricacies each time despite knowing some of the many twists going in.