One of the most fascinating aspects of science fiction films is that there really aren’t any limits. The imagination can go into overdrive and stretch the boundaries of reality without fear of repercussion or needing to make sense of it all by the final frame with a nice tidy bow. It’s an incredibly intriguing and truly wonderful thing when done right, and Source Code definitely does it right.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens, a man who wakes up on a train with no recollection of how he got there or what’s going on. The woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan) speaks to him as though they’re friends and yet he has no clue who she is. Trying to explain that he’s not who she thinks he is proves futile and he retreats to the restroom to collect his thoughts. It’s there that he realizes why this woman thinks he’s someone else: he is. Upon seeing the reflection of a man who’s body he seems to have taken over, Stevens leaves the restroom only to bump into the same woman sitting across from him earlier. She seems concerned for her friend “Sean,” who isn’t acting like himself, and just as Stevens tries to explain things once again the train explodes and everyone on board dies.
Now that would be one hell of a spoiler if the movie ended there (it’d also be an incredibly short movie) but just as the train explodes Stevens is pulled back into reality where he seems to be strapped into a pod of some sort, wearing his army gear. Again, he has no idea where he is or what just happened to him until a Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) appears on a small screen in front of him and explains that he’s currently on a mission to locate the maker of a bomb that blew up a train heading to Chicago earlier that morning. The very train he was just on moments ago. The way he’s going to accomplish this is through the “source code,” a top secret program that allows a person to take over someone’s body and relive the last eight minutes of their life.
The film then goes into Groundhog Day mode, where Stevens repeats the same eight minutes over and over again (albeit with different scenarios playing out in each and none actually being eight real-time minutes in length) while trying to figure out who on the train planted the bomb. It’s not as though Stevens has an infinite amount of attempts to do so either, as the bomber has announced a second, much larger attack in the heart of Chicago that will go off in just six hours. Now, Stevens must singlehandedly stop this massacre from happening in the future by investigating those who are doomed to die in the past.
In 2009, Duncan Jones made his directorial and writing debut with Moon, one of the most brilliant sci-fi films in recent memory. With Source Code added to his director’s credits he’s now two for two. Jones keeps a great pacing with a tight 93 minute runtime. There’s no real downtime for our hero and Jones makes sure to keep him on his feet constantly throughout, always pushing the story forward and never stopping to tread water or allow the audience to get off of the thrilling ride he’s taking them on.
Gyllenhaal is perfect for the part of Stevens as he continues to prove that he’s an actor who can play any part in any genre and make it work. The intensity and sympathy he brings to the character help make Stevens someone the audience instantly feels for and wants to see succeed. It’s not an easy thing to pull off in a role where time is of the essence and characters have to be developed throughout yet cared for from the very start; however, Gyllenhaal accomplishes just that with ease.
Monaghan is someone I truly enjoy seeing on the screen. She’s attractive, yet unassuming and knows how to do her job as well as any actress out there. Christina, her character in Source Code, has one of the harder jobs in the film: the need to relive the same moments time and time again. Granted, no scenario plays off like the one before it; however, while Gyllenhaal starts off each new scenario remembering what happened in the last, Monaghan has to play it like this is her first time through. So while his character is always moving forward, she continuously needs to act shocked at “Sean’s” behaviour while also reacting differently each time depending on what Gyllenhaal’s character is doing.
Farmiga plays one of two characters who interact with Capt. Stevens from outside the source code. She, along with Jeffrey Wright (who plays Dr. Rutledge, creator of the program) add a great layer of intrigue and suspense to the film. While Source Code is a rather large production, it’s amazing how well it was all put together, really making the interactions of these four characters speak volumes and add a major human element to what could have easily been a straightforward thriller. For that, credit must be given to the film’s writer Ben Ripley, who has crafted one of the best sci-fi thrillers of the year.
The video is presented in 1080p 16.9 1:78 high definition and looks fantastic. The colours are vibrant and crisp and there’s no washed out look at any point in the film. The audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD and also sounds wonderful. There’s plenty of explosions (one every eight minutes, give or take) and they flow perfectly with the music and dialogue, with no strain to hear what’s going on at any point.
The extras, on the other hand, are somewhat disappointing. The audio commentary is the highlight and has director Duncan Jones, Jake Gyllenhaal and writer Ben Ripley on board speaking about the film. This commentary covers pretty much everything one would hope to have it cover for the film and is definitely worth a listen for fans of the film.
Aside from the commentary there’s a thing called Access: Source Code, which is where various interviews and pieces of information pop up on the screen while you watch the film. The main reason this doesn’t work is because this is the type of film you want to pay attention to while you watch it, even if you’re on your third or fourth time through. While the audio commentary is one thing, listening to people talk about the film as it’s happening, having pop-up bubbles show up with tidbits about time travel or bits of trivia is distracting and not conventional.
It’s not as though you’ll want to watch the film and then stop to read bits of trivia then just go back to watching the movie for a few minutes until an expert pops up to talk about the scientific aspects of Source Code. Not only can you not watch the movie while this is going on, but it’s so disjointed that it just doesn’t flow properly. It’d be so much better to just have another commentary with the expert if they wanted (though that’d be torture as this guy sounds like someone who’s class you’d definitely sleep through) and separate features focusing on cast and crew interviews.
While the extras were poorly executed, the actual film was anything but. Source Code is a fast-paced thrill ride with the perfect blend of science fiction that will leave you thinking about this film long after it’s done.
Summit Entertainment presents Source Code. Directed by: Duncan Jones. Written by: Ben Ripley. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. Running time: 93 minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: July 26, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.