I always love a good movie that offers a deceivingly simple underlying premise that step-by-step reveals itself to be part of something much larger and intricate than meets the eye. “Source Code,” just like “Inception,” is an excellent example of the thinking man’s blockbuster. It has the uncanny knack to hook anybody who can get past the implausible logic behind the science and leave them staring at the screen in thorough amazement. With each new imperative plot point, I was absorbed and along for the journey.
The opening scene begins with Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a decorated airman who awakens onboard a commuter train heading to who-knows-where. A strange woman (Michelle Monaghan) is sitting in the seat across from him striving to carry on a casual conversation with him as if they are well acquainted. She is calling him Sean Fentress and his driver’s license is following suit. The face he sees in the bathroom mirror is not his own. And before he is able to process any of these developments, KABOOM!
Stevens then finds himself strapped securely inside a dark containment unit of some kind and sees the face of Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) communicating with him via video monitor. She explains to him that he is a part of the computer simulation program Source Code, which employs unbelievable technology that allows the test subject to relive the final eight minutes of another person’s life. Even with the facts evidently spelled out to our hero, it remains a difficult pill for him to swallow. And I don’t blame him. How is he here? Why is he here? What happened to his job serving his country?
The bewildered Stevens’ assignment is to track down the bomb that destroyed the train earlier that day in Chicago and accumulate his knowledge to distinguish the identity of the perpetrator to military officials. And for those of you who are asking what the big deal is if these crimes have already been committed, the script has that covered too. I do not want to spoil the important plot details, but Stevens is under strict time restraints to put the puzzle pieces in the proper order. How is that for tight writing, “Sucker Punch?”
The film’s heart comes from the scenes shared between Gyllenhaal and Monaghan (whose character is named Christina). With each entrance into the simulated universe, he grows more affectionate towards her and wants to rescue her from her predetermined fate. The downside is that she has already been destroyed in the carnage and there is no method of changing the course of time, says the Source Code’s programmer Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), who seems to be more enlightened on circumstances than he is leading Stevens to believe.
While borrowing the do-over style elements from Harold Ramis’s 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day,” the intriguing concept still feels inventive and is put to noble use in this film. It is always pleasing to see that Hollywood is not as creatively bankrupt as people say and that a first-class filmmaking team can still find a way to flourish when handling proverbial themes.
The script written by Ben Ripley is a little bit complicated, but in a good way. As Jeffrey Wright’s character clarifies the convoluted mechanics behind the Source Code, the general idea of its layout is clear, comprehensible and necessary to the story’s progression. It kind of brings me back to “The Social Network” and how algorithms and computer codes suddenly clicked. The science may not exist in the real world, but that is where the FICTION part comes in.
Thirty-year-old actor Jake Gyllenhaal continues to demonstrate his instant magnetism in the role of Captain Stevens. Like James Franco in “127 Hours,” the audience almost fully perceives the incidents through Gyllenhaal’s eyes. In the opening moments of the film, he expresses strong perplexity about the unfamiliar setting he is placed in. Appropriately, the viewer is equally mystified. And as bits of exposition are fed to his character, we are collecting and digesting the facts simultaneously.
A deft fusion of science fiction, action, drama and romance, “Source Code” is terrifically imaginative entertainment that can also reach audiences on an intellectual level. Directed with refinement by a rising talent in science fiction Duncan Jones (who last did 2009’s “Moon”), the ninety-five minute running time feels like a breeze and left me yearning for more. In a year where so many films have left unsatisfactory imprints on my mind, “Source Code” annihilates the competition.