SOURCE CODE:out now on DVD and Blu-Ray
RUNNING TIME: 93 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY:Optimum Releasing
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Captain Colter Stevens, whose last memory is of his recent mission in Afghanistan, awakes on a train headed for Chicago with no memory if how he got there. His reflection is of a different man and his wallet says his name is Sean Fentress. Sitting opposite him is Christina, who obviously knows him as Sean, but then a bomb goes off and destroys the train. He then awakes inside a chamber where, through a computer screen, he is told that he is part of the Source Code programme, a programme that allows him to take over someone’s body in this last eight minutes of life. Earlier on, a bomb exploded and destroyed a train and Colter’s mission is to locate it, even if that means being constantly being sent back in time to the same place …………
I’m a real sucker for time travel tales, from The Time Machine to Back To The Future, and Source Code, which certainly has a few elements of Twelve Monkeys, is a good one and rings a few interesting changes on the idea. Then again, during the film one of its character’s says “this isn’t time travel, it’s time realignment”, so maybe a better point of reference would be Primer. What if a person’s last eight minutes can be recorded from their brain [a variation on a similar theory about eyes]? What if someone else can, somehow, enter the reality of those last eight minutes, time and time again and can change the past? This is fascinating stuff, and gets into things like alternate realities and time loops. I love this kind of thing, even if when it comes down to it, it might be all nonsense. Source Code is the second movie to come from Duncan Jones, whose Moon wowed many critics though left me a little cold, as impressive as it undoubtably was. No chance of that with Source Code though, which may start off as a mind bendy science fiction thriller but along the way turns into something very emotionally involving, something which really surprised me.
We are thrown into the story headlong, with us witnessing the first of Colter’s mission ‘attempts’. He finds himself on the train in someone else’s body, the woman opposite thinks he’s someone else, and the bomb goes off. People not knowing anything about the film’s plot beforehand probably wouldn’t have a clue as to what is going on, and I really admired the cheek of writer Ben Ripley here. It is only after this that we have the mission ‘briefing’, which is obviously holding back information which we will find out, in bits and pieces, later on. After this the movie turns into something like a cross between Quantum Leap [there’s even a cameo by Scott Bakula though it’s very easy to miss!], Groundhog Day and any one of a million movies where there’s a bomb on a moving vehicle and it has to be found! The first few ‘mission ‘segments are very repetitive and consist mainly of Colter thinking various people are the bomber when they actually aren’t, in scenes which have an element of black humour to them, but things eventually get really interesting. Events are changed more and more, the pace accelerates, and things seem to build to a big action climax……….
Which doesn’t happen. This is a brave choice, and instead we are treated to a really moving father/son conversation [not for the first time in a recent movie] and a climax which resolves around the simple switching off of a life support machine [these are hardly spoilers by the way, there are so many plot elements in this movie which I haven’t gone into] and some ‘living for the moment’ stuff which may seem like sentimental hogwash to some but actually brought me to tears. It’s possible that this happened because I expected nothing of the sort from this film, but then I can be a really soppy sod when watching movies. There is a freeze frame, and you will probably think “what a perfect way to end Source Code, so sad and yet so happy”……….except it doesn’t quite end, we go into another twist and an ending which is just cheesy ,the kind of rainbow and sunshine ending that so many Hollywood films feel they have to inflict on us even if it’s unsuited to the film. Maybe it was as a result of test audience screenings, or maybe I just didn’t understand it, but it left a sour taste in my mouth, especially when the movie seemed to end perfectly a couple of minutes before.
Aside from a few plot holes, which in this kind of movie may not be plot holes at all anyway, and some rubbish CGI during some of the train explosions [I don’t know about you, but CGI appear to be getting worse, not better], the one major niggling thing I had about Source Code is that I wished the whole science behind the whole ‘Source Code’ premise had been explained a little more. I often like movies that leave a great deal unexplained, but I feel that this one could have benefitted from a little more detail. I kept expecting either of Colter’s two superiors to just go into that little bit more detail, just enough to stop my brain from working overtime and trying to work things out in my mind rather than focusing on the action on screen, which is what it should have been doing more of. Overall though Ripley’s screenplay is very impressive, it’s very good at revealing things about characters quickly without being too obvious about it, and I liked how towards the end I was made to feel a great deal of sympathy for Colleen Goodwin, who initially one was meant to really dislike.
Jones’ direction is superb here, tightly controlling the pace of the film and not feeling the need to dazzle us with fancy graphics, in fact there’s a real ‘old school’ feel to this movie, aided by Chris Bacon’s score, which is immediately reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann without actually copying him. Up to now Bacon has only been an assistant on film scores but he’s a film composer to watch. Now I’m going to say now that I’ve never really ‘got’ Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s always seemed to me to have a face that is more suited to Jim Carrey/Adam Sandler-type clowning around than anything else, though perhaps some of this might be that, except for maybe Zodiac, I’ve never been totally satisfied by a film that he’s starred in, and that includes Brokeback Mountain and Donnie Darko. However here, he’s totally convincing in a role where he has to learn new revelations not only his mission but about himself in every other scene, and his chemistry with Michelle Monaghan, as Christina, is a joy to watch.
There is no real romance between their two characters, there isn’t time [though at one point I did wonder if Colter was going to do what many men would probably try to do and really ‘try it on’ with her because, in the manner of Groundhog Day, it doesn’t matter what the end result is when he can try it all over again soon!] but the two actors do a really good job of showing feelings for each other develop in a very subtle way. I’d love to see these two in another movie together. In the end, coming away from Source Code I’m left with more of a sense of the fragility of human existence and how life must be enjoyed because it could end at any time, rather than action and things like ‘time continuums’, and I found this very satisfying indeed.