Source Code (2011) Rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language. Dir: Duncan Jones
This film is a sci-fi geek’s dream– a cross between Quantum Leap,Groundhog Day, and possibly a computer adventure game. The film starts off like an episode of Quantum Leap. The main character is Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wakes up inside a commuter train, with an attractive girl in front of him, who already apparently likes him (perfect!). He looks in the mirror and finds out that he is someone else, at least to everyone else around him. He realizes too late that the train he is on has been set to explode in 8 minutes, which happens. He wakes up inside a pod of some sort, a part of a government experiment in which he can travel to the past, into the consciousness of a passenger’s last 8 minutes of his life (multiple times). His mission was to find out who had caused that explosion, so the culprit can be located (in the present) before he bombs another train or building. To add, Colter can go to the past, but he can’t change it to affect the present. The film goes on to explain all this with jibber jabber about parallel universes and its link to the last 8 minutes of a memory of a deceased passenger. Colter can enter into this new reality and interact with things that the passenger hadn’t experienced-because it’s actually a parallel universe, you see? (Say what?). Thankfully, the film doesn’t try to explain this in great detail.
Now, once you can run with this idea, it’s an extremely entertaining movie. Like Groundhog Day, death isn’t a factor for Gyllenhaal’s character because he will merely return back to the pod after 8 minutes. I’m partly reminded of the text adventure games I used to play when I was a kid–you’d die and you’d return to a saved point, where you can try a different route in the story. In essence, you don’t even have to really focus on the mission. In each scenario, Colter would try different things to find the bomber, but on the side he proceeds to find out more about himself, of which he has only fuzzy memories of. Given 8 minutes each time, the pacing of this film is relentless. Understandably, it’s not a heavily character-driven film, aside from Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. The whole train motif, the confused protagonist, and pastel colors bring back a bit of Hitchcock. The pacing is consistent and the twists keep coming.
The suspense in the film works mainly because we care about Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. Gyllenhaal is a great everyman. He reacts just as one would expect in such extreme circumstances. He struggles with his own desires, duty, and with his rights which are being infringed upon. Michelle Monaghan does well enough as Colter’s potential love interest, Christina-understandably, due to time constraints of the situations, she is not complex. How many meaningful conversations ever stayed within 8 minutes, after all? Likewise, the government agents who are heading the experiment, as played by Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga, feel mostly like archetypes.
Overall, this is a fun, entertaining thriller with many potential threads. Like Inception, as Hollywood films go, this is a unique film. The ideas aren’t new, but it takes a fresh approach. The 8-minute gimmick forces the story to waste little time. Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal brings in the emotion and Duncan Jones’ taut direction pulls out the suspense. Because there are so many ways one can go with this material, this could have been a pretty good ongoing TV series like Lost. If not, I imagine straight-to-video sequels coming soon.
My Rating: *** 1/2 out of **** stars