MOVIE REVIEW: Source Code
SOURCE CODE-- 5 STARS
You have to love clever marketing. The advance TV spots and trailers for director Duncan Jones' second feature film, Source Code, do some of the best misdirection of marketing you will ever see for a thriller. If you have seen some of those commercials, you will create certain expectations. On the surface, it looks like Source Code brings a little Back to the Future time-travel mixed with a little Quantum Leap/Avatar out-of-body experience and a dash of Speed's need for one man to save the day.
Let it be said right here and now: you were deceived and what you saw was just the tip of the iceberg. Will you end up unhappy about that? For heaven's sake, you will NOT be! Telling you how those scenes and clips you've seen are just the tip of the iceberg and not what they seem would ruin the discovery, twists, thrills, and fun of what is the best movie so far of 2011.
Here's what can be said (and it won't stray far from the trailer). Jake Gyllenhaal (seen last year in Love and Other Drugs and The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) stars as Capt. Colter Stevens, a decorated Afghanistan helicopter pilot, who wakes up to find himself on a Chicago-bound commuter train. He's sitting across from a flirtatious Christina (Michelle Monaghan of Due Date and Eagle Eye), who talks like she knows him, but Colter sure doesn't know her. Confused, he goes to the bathroom to collect his thoughts and sees that his reflection in the mirror and the wallet in his pocket match someone else, namely school teacher Sean Fentress. A few minutes later, still disoriented, the train explodes killing him and everyone else aboard.
This "death" wakes up the real Colter Stevens. He is harnessed to seemingly some kind of simulator chair in some sort of pod and is only connected to the outside via video-conferencing. On the other side of that screen, Colter is introduced to Capt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga of Up in the Air and The Departed). She tells him that he inside the "Source Code," a program that allows him to inhabit someone's body (in this case, Fentress) in the last eight minutes of their live before death, due to the residual power of their memory and brain. What he witnessed was a train bombing that is supposed to lead to a second and much larger terrorist strike on the city of Chicago, putting millions of people at risk. Colter has been tasked on a mission to enter those last eight minutes, via the Source Code. There, he must gather information on the location of the bomb and the identity of the bomber in order to hopefully prevent the second larger attack before it happens. Colter only has those eight minutes as Fentress, which restart and replay each time he fails.
Trust me. That's enough and all you need to know. Any further and too much will be said. Director Duncan Jones, son of rock star David Bowie, played with science fiction asking who or what is real or not in 2009 with his under-seen and very good debut feature, Moon (highly recommended on Netflix), starring Sam Rockwell. He crafts another labyrinth of sci-fi's implications with people here with Source Code.
While what is unsaid and unrevealed isn't on the level of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father in The Empire Strikes Back or Bruce Willis really being dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense, too many details ruin the surprising build-up and progress of the film. What unravels and untwists in those repeated eight minute episodes and chances for Colter, Christina, Goodwin, and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), the boss of the Source Code, makes for an extremely compelling, original, and thought-provoking thriller.
You root for both sides of Gyllenhaal's determined hero (a perfect role for the actor's blend of vulnerability and machoness). (SIDENOTE: Speaking of Quantum Leap, pay attention to Colter's father's phone voice. It's a cameo that will bring an appreciative smirk to your face). You root for a little romance to blossom between Colter/Fentress and Christina in an impossible situation. Most of all, you are pinned on the edge of your seat to find out how it all turns out.
LESSON #1: PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS-- Every time Colter goes back to the beginning of his eight minutes in the Source Code, he's charged with picking up more and more details about the bombing and possible suspects. You hear about the kind of people who can sit in a restaurant (OK maybe just Jason Bourne) and tell you the license plate of every car in the parking lot and watch every move of the people around them. In the big picture, those details can matter. Even if the detail us regular people notice is whether or not a co-worker got a recent haircut, being about to see the minute details in your surroundings is a handy skill to have and practice.
LESSON #2: THE VALUE OF SECOND CHANCES-- The repetitive time loop that our hero Colter is in brings up the value of having second (and third, and fourth, etc.) chances. This lesson fits into the "woulda-could-shoulda" department. We've all wanted a redo at taking back something we've said or making a different first impression. We've all wanted to say goodbye to someone we never got to see again. We've all wanted to go back and tell ourselves not to make a certain decision that led to something bad. We would all love the second chance to fix and do those kinds of things. The lesson is to do your best to get it right the first time, but also to embrace the luck of having a second chance come around for you.
LESSON #3: THE DEBATE ON THE EXISTENCE OF FATE-- Much like above in the review, without giving too much of Source Code away, a much-debated parallel to the technology present in the movie is whether or not fate exists. Some characters believe it and others don't. Can the Source Code change the fate of the train bombing or are those people destined to die no matter what happens and what can be changed? This debate is much like the contrasting notions of how everyone either has a "plan" laid out for them in this world (by a higher power) or if free will and chance dictate their actions (a la The Adjustment Bureau recently). In any case, there is a big difference one's self-concept and motivations to make the choices they do based on whether or not they believe in fate. Which side of the debate do you gravitate too?