The Way of the Word

11. March 2011

Review: Source Code

USA 2011. Directed by Duncan Jones. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. Runtime: 96 minutes

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a Chicago commuter train. He has no idea who the pretty woman, Christine (Michelle Monaghan) in front of him is, but she knows him. When he goes to the washroom, the face in the mirror isn’t his own. Before he can even begin to figure out what has happened to him, the train he’s on explodes, and everyone dies.

Everyone, that is, except for Colter, who wakes up in a strange-looking contraption. He is told that he works for Beleaguered Castle, a section of the US military that works with a program called Source Code. Source Code allows to send a person back into the head of another person eight minutes before that person’s death. The same terrorist who bombed the train threatened to detonate a nuclear bomb in the heart of Chicago in six hours. Colter’s assignment is to identify the terrorist, so that he can be apprehended and the greater disaster can be averted. Colter’s only contact to the real world are Sgt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), his handler, and the inventor of the Source Code (Jeffrey Wright), whose drive to prove himself is so great that he is willing to send Colter through hell for it. Again and again and again.

And even though everyone tells Colter that he can’t change the past, Colter is determined to try.

At first glance, Source Code looks like a mix of Quantum Leap (time traveler with swiss-cheese-memory wakes up in a stranger’s body) and 7 Days (time traveler is sent by secret government agency to prevent a catastrophe), with a dash of Déjà Vu and some video game logic. A closer look reveals that Source Code is very much its own thing. The story unfolds mostly from Colter Stevens’s point of view, and the audience discovers the twists and turns (and there are many) almost as he does.

Source Code has plenty of action and explosions. Okay, so there’s only one explosion, which repeats over and over again. And even though Colter races a ticking clock (6 hours until the nuke goes up), the audience doesn’t really feel that ticking clock, because Colter’s journey is like a level in a video game – you get killed once, you restart the level, and knowing what you did wrong the last time helps you through the next try.

All of this would make for a very dull, shallow and pointless action movie. It’s a good thing then that Source Code isn’t that. Rather, the movie focuses on the characters.

On Colter’s feelings as he discovers what he is supposed to do, his frustration at being unable to save the people or even of talking to his father.

On Goodwin’s feelings as she begins to develop sympathy for Colter’s plight. Goodwin’s character shows the most development in the movie: she starts out as someone who might be a computer simulation, to the one who proves to have the most heart, the one who takes the greatest risk to do the right thing. For me, Goodwin was the movie’s main character.

On the project’s inventor’s almost monomanic ambition to see this through and prove himself, at any cost (to Colter). He’s the kind of person who you wouldn’t want to succeed, the one who you’d want to fail if that didn’t mean millions of people would die.

These three characters drive the movie, their journeys make the movie. They make Source Code an action movie with heart, where you don’t look for one-liners, but you feel for and with the characters.

The only one who doesn’t get to shine is Michelle Monaghan as Christine. That isn’t her fault, she does the best the script allows her to do, but that isn’t much: she suffers from being a romantic interest for the hero, whose existence is limited to eight repetitive minutes.

I’m afraid I can’t really say more about it, because it’s almost impossible to say more without spoilers. So suffice it to say that if you liked Inception, you’re likely to like Source Code: it is as clever as the much more expensive movie, but with much more heart.

With Source Code, Duncan Jones shows that Moon was not a fluke: he’s a director with brains and heart. Just like this movie.

Verdict: very recommended

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2 Comments »

  1. […] This review by Jens H Altmann […]

    Pingback by Source Code review by Jens H Altmann – www.liveforfilms.com — 12. March 2011 @ 18:21

  2. A well-paced and structured sci-fi thriller that’s as complex as it is clear-headed. Also, Gyllenhaal shows again why exactly he really is one of the better leading men out there, and proves he still has that charm. Good review, check out mine when you can!

    Comment by CMrok93 — 4. April 2011 @ 12:07


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