Source Code

Punchy, engaging time-bending science fiction with a 24 hint.

Released in 2011, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 13 Aug 2011 by Scott Morris
Source Code image

This film represents another of the not-particularly-exclusive "trailer so dumb it was immediately consigned to the 'ignore' pile" club. There was, however, one detail which prompts giving this a second chance, sporting the directorial name of Duncan Jones, previously responsible for the excellent Moon. Turns out that not summarily rejecting the film on the flimsiest of basises wasn't a bad idea. Whodavethunkit?

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes in the body of Sean Fentress, a mild mannered teacher who died when the train he's on exploded. Colter seems mildly perplexed by this occurance, at least for the eight minutes he's given until the train he's on explodes. Awaking in a crashed helicopter, he's informed by his commanding officer that he needs to go back into the train, and Mr. Fentress until he can prevent the train exploding.

Except he won't be preventing the train that exploded from exploding, because that's already exploded. He'll be in an identical train in a parallel universe, maybe, I guess, at which point my brain twists itself into a tiny knot and starts crying.

Turns out he's in the apparently arbitrarily entitled Source Code, allowing him to inhabit the body of someone for the last eight minutes of their life, in this case to try and find the identity of the train bomber before he can further detonate a 'dirty bomb' in downtown Chicago.

He can't save the train, or the people on it, but that's not going to stop him trying, especially as he gets to know fellow passenger Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), and while he's expressly ordered to stay on mission by his superiors, their evasive non-answers to questions regarding how he came to be inside the Source Code arouse his suspicions and he goes about trying to work out what's happened to him.

I can almost guarantee that I've made this sound far more perplexing than it actually is, and the director and scriptwriters ought to be commended for making a potential minefield of time travel and parallel worlds easily followable. It's not exactly a well thought out piece of Hard Science Fiction, as it seems to be playing fast and loose with it's own definitions of exactly what this Source Code is as the film progresses. Given that this is in service of creating a pacy, punch narrative, I think I'll let it slide.

Gyllenhaal gives a charismatic, effective performance that humanises a story that could otherwise get a little too technical, and the Source Code program director played by Jeffrey Wright provides an effective foil for him to play against later in the film. The burgeoning romance between Gyllenhaal and Monaghan is beliveable without being overly intrusive, and overall Gyllenhaal presents a very sympathetic character that's easy root for and holds interest even during the occassional, very brief, descent into technobabble.

I've very few issues with the film, and none emerge until essentially the final reel, where it starts re-writing its own internal rules to the point that the ending is a little conflicted, and in my opinion could have used either something substantially more ambiguous or explained in ludicrous detail. Still, quibbling over a change to the rules of the McGuffin that weren't particularly well defined in the first instance is a fool's errand. This, to the best of my recollection, is the best bit of Sci-Fi I've seen since Moon, so it's well worth a look.

Duncan Jones
Cast list:
Jake Gyllenhaal (Colter Stevens)
Michelle Monaghan (Christina Warren)