Movie Review: Source Code (2011)

Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code
Photo: Summit Entertainment

Duncan Jones follows-up his whisper of a sci-fi standout, Moon, with a venture into the studio side of filmmaking with Source Code, a film with definite sci-fi roots, but more interested in telling the human side of the story than getting into the technical details. After introducing the sci-fi aspect with only the details necessary to follow the story, Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley give the film over to the audience to make of it what they will.

Things begins as a terrorist bomb destroys a passenger train heading to Chicago. The unknown bomber has since promised to detonate a dirty bomb in the middle of the city later that day. Without any clues as to the bomber’s identity, the government initiates the first ever use of an experimental program called “Source Code”.

Aptly operating under the name “Beleaguered Castle,” the “Source Code” program affords Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) the ability to assume the identity of one of the passengers on the doomed train and relive the last eight minutes of his life. In those eight minutes Colter’s assignment is to learn the identity of the bomber so they may be caught before causing further damage. This process can be repeated as many times as necessary, but the clock is ticking and the next bomb could be detonated at any time.

There are, of course, details you’re going to question, particularly why would a bomber ride the same train he or she is planning on bombing and why announce themselves before taking out their primary target? Perhaps the best answer to this is because otherwise we’d simply have a movie where Chicago is blown up and instead of a dramatic thriller we’d be watching a movie about major cities beefing up their security and the government amending the Homeland Security Act. Sorry, that sounds a bit dull to me and it would probably include way too much Wolf Blitzer.

Instead of a trip to the “Situation Room,” Source Code offers up more exciting comparisons. Comparisons to The Matrix and Groundhog Day are easy to make. Additionally, through Jones’s filmmaking techniques, I found hints of Kubrick, Hitchcock and Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Source Code feels comfortable, like you’ve been there before, but also manages to come across equally original. The mystery in finding the bomber keeps you guessing while you grow more in touch with the protagonist at its core.

The task of finding the bomber on the train becomes secondary to the life of Colter Stevens portrayed with an everyman relatability by Gyllenhaal. We learn more about him throughout his multiple trips to the fateful train than we do about the bomber he’s searching for, primarily through his interactions with Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the female passenger traveling with the man whose body Colter has hijacked. Christina is immediately giving clues about herself and through Colter’s confusion we learn more about them both, and even more each time he’s bounced back to reality.

Back in the lab, Colter occupies a pod reminiscent of the underground production design in Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Filled with dangling wires, dark corners and a fuzzy monitor glowing in the darkness housing the face of Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). It’s here Colter receives his orders. Farmiga’s professional, yet compassionate performance adds a necessary element to the story giving us one more emotional avenue to connect to the lead character.

Pulling the strings on this mission is Jeffrey Wright playing “Source Code” inventor Dr. Rutledge. Wright has become an impressive supporting actor in several films since his breakout with Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil. Here he plays Rutledge with a demeanor I’m still having a hard time putting my finger on, and I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the plot. Let’s call him a determined eccentric and leave it at that.

As Colter navigates each individual eight minute time frame, Duncan Jones balances each trip with injections of comedy, drama, mystery and action to make sure the audience never gets bored and for the most part it works quite well. The only problem I had comes at the end as it gets a bit too sugary for my taste. I like the conversation the science side of it creates, and the door opened to question the repercussions should such a scenario as the “Source Code” project, however unlikely, actually play out, but the human elements were tied up a bit too neat and tidy for me.

Source Code shows that Duncan Jones is ready to break out with a major hit of his own. I don’t believe this will be the film to do it, but Source Code combined with the subtlety he showed in Moon exhibits signs of a director that has a solid grasp on framing a story and engaging an audience. It will be fascinating to see what he delivers next.


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Weekend: Oct. 17, 2019, Oct. 20, 2019

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