“What is source code?”
That’s a good question. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a good answer, not without spoiling some of the finer elements of this science fiction thriller from Moon director Duncan Jones. At the heart of this code you’ll a bit of the familiar. From Groundhog Day to Déjà Vu you’ll leave this movie with a sense that you’ve seen much of this before, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. These elements aren’t necessarily merely retread material. Let’s just say they share a large amount of DNA in this film’s basic source code.
“Source code is not time travel; rather source code is time reassignment. It gives us access to a parallel reality.”
Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is an Afghanistan combat helicopter pilot who finds himself suddenly on a passenger train with no idea how he got there. Sitting across from him is Christina (Monaghan) who seems to think that he’s someone else. As he attempts to get his bearings and try to find out what’s going on, the train explodes and he wakes up in an enclosed capsule of some kind. There is no one else here. His only contact comes from a communication screen where a Captain Colleen Goodwin (Farmiga) is being far too evasive to his obvious questions. He discovers that he’s part of an anti-terrorist project called Source Code. He is reliving the final eight minutes of the life of one of the passengers on a train that was bombed by terrorists. The bomber is promising to take out downtown Chicago next, and it’s Colter’s job to use that last eight minutes to try to find out who he is. The task requires him to re-enter the time period over and over again. He can move about freely in the simulation, but he’s told there is no way to stop the train disaster because it has already occurred. But he’s not so sure. With each loop he discovers more about the bomb and even more disturbing information about who and where he really is. He is also obsessed with saving Christina, against the advice of Goodwin and project creator Dr. Rutledge (Wright).
The first thing you’re going to think of is that this is a science fiction version of Groundhog Day, and you’d be pretty spot on, for the most part. While Colter isn’t living an entire day over again, he does get to relive the same eight minutes, learning from his previous attempts. There is certainly a similarity in the kind of movie because we do have to contend with watching the same scenes played over again several times with multiple variations and their subsequent consequences. Of course, whatever goes wrong, the clock re-sets and no harm done. The drama doesn’t come from the time loops but the ticking clock in the “reel” world where an attack is imminent. But the film I am most reminded of here is Déjà Vu with Denzel Washington. Here the movies have far more in common. Both suggest a glimpse of the past with a hero who is determined to test the scientific explanation that we’re merely investigating, not rescuing. Both fall in love with a victim who has ostensibly already died. And without giving away the whole ball of wax, in both cases we suspect that there just might be a way to do it. It’s safe to say that if you liked one, you’re very likely to like the other.
The big problem here is the one facing every story that continuously loops back on itself. How do you keep the repeats from getting too tedious? I remember a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode entitled Cause And Effect that got quite tiresome after the third or fourth time we were exposed to the loop restart. Here there are a couple of things that will keep such fatigue away about as well as those old white pills the truckers used to take to stay awake. The first is the simple fact that Colter is able to change the scene considerably with his own actions. While the setup stuff continues to intrude, we accept it as a device to sell the loop. The big savior here is that for an inexperienced director Jones knows how to keep the pace going so that you don’t have time to get bogged down in the minutiae. Clever editing helps to fortify a fascinating script so that you don’t mind going for the same ride over and over again. It’s like getting to jump back in the front of the line at Space Mountain. How many times would you do that if you could?
I usually find Jake Gyllenhaal a bit tiresome. He’s too often the “pretty” boy, and I’d say his career’s been a little over-rated. But here he is spot-on. He mixes just the right amount of pathos and determination so that you’ll be rooting for him in no time. The romantic elements are left to the small nuances that are soooooooooo much more effective than the Hollywood norm that Jones and the cast give us credit for getting it without having to have his characters throw down and get naked in the middle of a crisis. Michelle Monaghan has just the right mix of pretty and realism that she ends up anchoring the eight-minute loop without having to overpower the scenes. Again, Jones brought out a ton of nuance in his characters. He fails to fall for the rookie mistake of beating his point into submission for the sake of a perceived moronic audience. The movie never feels it has to explain everything, and I’m perfectly okay with that. And, so shall you be. This one is absolutely worth your time.
Source Code is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 31 mbps. “Unbelievable detail,” Colter remarks when he finally understands a little of what is going on here. That’s going to be your thoughts, as well. The film is bright and sharp. Colors really pop, and the black levels allow for wonderful shadow definition. You’ll find fine detail and texture abounds. It’s a pretty sweet high-definition image presentation all the way around.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is just as impressive. Chris Bacon provides a score that is thrilling at times here. The subs really come alive when called upon. Dialog won’t get lost in the shuffle of this energetic audio presentation. It’s a dynamic track that never gets in the way of itself. The surrounds provide a wonderfully immersive experience with subtle to earthshaking ear candy.
There is an engaging Audio Commentary with Gyllenhaal, director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley. Ripley doesn’t chime in as often because when the other two get going there’s no stopping them. You’ll get a lot of insight here.
Access Source Code: This viewing mode provides you with behind-the-scenes peeks, trivia, commentary and scientific theory as you watch the movie.
This movie sends up a lot of my red flags going in. I worry about new directors who get a lot of money and toys to play with, but Jones handles it all as if he were an old pro. He’s not afraid to dazzle but doesn’t feel he has to throw everything at you at once. I also worry about stories that sound like stuff I’ve already seen a few times. The whole Groundhog Day thing is completely overdone today. Again, this movie will prove that you can get a new trick or two out of a tried and tired idea. Of course, it’s my job to scout these things out and lead you in the right direction. It’s a tough job. “It’s quantum mechanics, parabolic calculus … it’s very complicated.”