‘Source Code’ – Like ‘Groundhog Day’ But with a Shorter Time Span
The best way to describe “Source Code?” It is “Groundhog Day” crossed with “Quantum Leap.” It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Colter Stevens, an army helicopter pilot who has been assigned to a mission which has him looking for a bomber who blew up a Chicago bound train and killed everyone onboard. The movie’s title refers to a special program which allows him to enter the body of one of the passengers on that train for the last eight minutes of their life. So, perhaps this film is more like “Groundhog Day,” except that the day is going to be a lot shorter than 24 hours, and I mean a lot shorter.
Now this is a great concept for a film as we all have those moments which can prove to be as painful as they are unforgettable. Whether we admit or not, we keep replaying certain memories in our minds over and over again, often changing the outcome to something far more pleasing to our ego and sense of well-being. Even though it does us no good to dwell on the past, we fall into those patterns when our present is not all that great, and our future is more uncertain than we would prefer it to be. And through the breakthroughs of science here, Captain Colter gets to relive a moment which, while not his own, allows him to manipulate reality whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Of course, we can replay a moment from our lives to where we can no longer remember what was real or what was not. “Source Code” explores this as well, making one believe that if our lives were predestined, they will cease to be thanks to what science can continually do for us.
This film is director Duncan Jones’ follow up to “Moon” which itself was one of the very best movies of 2009. Like “Moon,” its main character is caught up in a situation not entirely of his making, but which becomes clear as the story rolls along. Like Colter, we are making discoveries about who he is along with him, and we eagerly await the answers he comes across even if they do not produce the desired result of stopping the bombing.
From the outset, “Source Code” looks to be a whodunit, but this ceases to be the case before the film reaches its midpoint. Besides, it’s pretty easy to figure out who the bomber is, and it is only a matter of time before Colter confronts said person to learn their true intentions. In actuality, it is about a man caught up in a situation which he has no control over, and of how he gets that control back in a way no one can predict.
Gyllenhaal remains one of the most dependable actors in movies, and he does not let the audience down in this one. In many ways, his performance is not too different from others he has given in recent years, so there is not much new to what he does here. All the same, he is very good, so why complain? Gyllenhaal engages us emotionally in his character’s struggle as, like him, we do not know how we got into this and we are desperate to get answers.
Jones does great work in making each visit to the same eight minutes unique from the last Colter gets unwillingly subjected to. “Source Code” could have been redundant as hell, and certain moments and actions are repeated ad nauseam throughout, but each eight-minute period has a different theme or construction to it. There are various people Colter has to meet, and there are other things for him to take advantage of in the little time he has to work with. Colter also gets to pull the rug out from under us to where, once the bomber is found, he finds there is still work to do.
Aside from Gyllenhaal, “Source Code” features other strong performances like the one from Vera Farmiga who was so great in “The Departed” and “Up in The Air.” Her character of Captain Colleen Goodwin at first looks to be Colter’s embattled conscience, but it is really the other way around. Farmiga is great in taking a typical military stock character and giving them a heart and soul which strongly informs the decisions Colleen later makes.
Also in the film is Jeffrey Wright who plays the creator of Source Code, Dr. Rutledge. This could have been a simple obsessive doctor, one mad with power, or one who is overly cruel. Somehow, Wright succeeds in making Rutledge something of an enigma to where you are not quite sure what to make of him. He may not be a mad scientist, but he is also not the warm kind either.
And, of course, we have the infinitely lovely Michelle Monaghan here as Christina Warren, girlfriend to the man Colter inhabits. Whether it is “Mission: Impossible 3,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” or “Gone Baby Gone,” she always has a wonderful presence about her, and her smile brightens our mood every time we see it. And, like many actresses I tend to have a crush on, she is already married (dammit).
Is “Source Code” an original movie? I do not know nor do I care, but it sure feels like one compared to most movies being released these days. While you could say that there is a bit of “Inception” in this film as it involves searching through the mind of another person, this one feels like its own thing. It is a pointless argument to complain about what Jones borrows from here because not much of anything is original these days. It becomes a quest to take elements from other movies or stories and make them your own, and Jones has succeeded in doing this here.
While “Source Code” is a bit confusing at times, and I did not fully buy the its concluding act, this film is an enthralling mystery with a good dose of exciting action. Hopefully, Hollywood studios will start taking the time in being more openly inventive instead of just regurgitating the blockbuster hits from the recent past.
Still, it would be nice to change some of the more painful moments from our past so that we can look at ourselves in a kinder light, one which will help make our egos rise out of the muck they too often sink into. While it is best to make peace and forgive ourselves for our foolish trespasses, science is always catching up with us. Just you wait!
* * * ½ out of * * * *