Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Written by: Ben Ripley
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
If you knew you only had eight minutes left to live, what would you do with your time? Would you save the world? Would you get the girl? If you could relive those eight minutes over and over again, would that change your decision?
Source Code plays out like one of the better episodes of The Twilight Zone, (with close ties to the series’ first episode “Where Is Everybody?”). Lt. Colter Stevens has been selected for a top secret mission to find the bomber of a Chicago bound train through an invention known as the “Source Code”, which allows its user to inhabit the last eight minutes of a recently deceased person’s life. Stevens is asked to determine the identity of the train’s bomber before he strikes again in the heart of Chicago, however in doing so, he is forced to experience death by explosion over and over again until he can find the perpetrator. With an entire train of suspects, including a disarmingly beautiful woman, Steven scrambles to understand and accomplish his mission.
Any story that deals with altering timelines runs a risk of becoming convoluted very quickly. There is a need for big chunks of explanatory diaogue to set the rules for the audience, as well as a leap of faith on our part to accept where the filmmakers are taking us. What Ben Ripley’s script does well is simply lay out the details of what the “Source Code” does without really getting into the nitty gritty, (think Avatar’s visual explanation of inserting humans into the Na’vi vessels). Simultaneously though, the script doesn’t dumb itself down. We have to keep up or get lost in the mix. This opens the door for the thrilling action sequences, which is made all the more suspenseful because, if we’re pay attention, we’re also involve intellectually in the excitement.
Like any time travel or alternate reality story, there are some inherent morality issues attached. As Lt. Stevens slowly unravels the mystery of the bomber’s identity, he recognizes the potential to alter reality, or at least a reality. He believes that he can not only find the terrorist, but stop him and save the people that died on the train. This is where the semantics get a little murky for some viewers. At one point Stevens communicates with a character outside of the Source Code via text message, which eventually manifests itself in real life without any real explanation. But over analyzing these small details detracts from the larger issues regarding humanity and moral responsibility.
Duncan Jones follows up his 2009 underground science fiction hit with this exciting time travel tinged thriller. His transition from the low budget independent world into Hollywood comes with ease as he shows deft talent behind the camera. He has demonstrated his gift for delivering complex and entertaining stories with strong ethical undertones. His style is the perfect blend of Tarkovsky and Speilberg. He brings out wholly effective performances from his appealing cast. Gyllenhaal shows that he is deserving of leading man status, and is supported by the delightful Jeffrey Wright, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga.
Source Code accomplishes what makes cinema a unique art form: it elicits lingering questions while managing to give us our fourteen dollars worth of entertainment.
USA. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13.