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Source Code

A sci-fi thriller directed by Duncan Jones and starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

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Time After Time

  • Apr 2, 2011
Star Rating:

My natural impulse is to resist films about time travel and/or parallel universes, mostly because they operate under rules of logic so confusing, it would take nothing less than an advanced degree in quantum physics to understand them. Duncan Jones’ Source Code is like that; although it successfully draws you in and keeps you engaged, it’s founded on a scientific premise that actually makes less sense the more you think about it. Explanations only pose an entirely new series of questions, so in effect, absolutely nothing is explained by anyone at any point. Am I just not smart enough for this movie? Watching it was for me a little like entering a conversation when it was halfway finished – it was interesting to listen to, but without context, the words have no real meaning.
What it lack in understandable science fiction, however, it more than makes up for in action thrills. Simply looking at it is an experience unto itself. It’s like a tightly-wound clock; it builds tension right at the start, and as it unwinds over the next ninety minutes, we wait with anticipation for the alarm to finally go off. It doesn’t slow down, nor should it, for we would miss out on the adrenaline rush we’ve come to expect from movies like this. It works especially well in this film since the plot operates on a time loop, meaning we will experience the thrills multiple times. The really amazing thing is that we don’t experience the same thrill twice; with every visit to the same point in time, certain characters will behave in different ways, which will in turn affect how and when certain decisions are made.

In the film, Air Force pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a commuter train bound for Chicago, completely unaware of how he got there. There is a woman sitting directly across from him, who we eventually learn is named Christina (Michelle Monaghan). He doesn’t know who she is, but she seems to know him quite well – although she calls him by a different name. Indeed, when he goes to the restroom and looks in the mirror, a face that is not his own is staring back at him. He notices a number of seemingly inconsequential details: Coffee spilling on his shoe; the conductor asking him for his ticket; Christina picking up her cell phone and discovering her ex is calling yet again; a man getting off at the next stop; a college student catching up to the man to return his wallet. Before Stevens has the chance to process any of this, the train explodes, killing everyone on board.
Miraculously, he comes to in a windowless metal holding cell, where he’s restrained with industrial-strength straps. A monitor comes to life, showing the image of a woman in a military uniform. Her name is Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), and through her, a few pieces of the puzzle come into place; Stevens is the test subject for an experimental government project known only as the Source Code, which, in Stevens’ case, means his mind can be transplanted into the body of a train passenger during the last eight minutes of his life. This procedure is part of a mission to discover the identity of the bomber and prevent him or her from destroying the city of Chicago. If Stevens fails during that eight-minute timeslot, he will be sent back and made to start all over again. This will happen repeatedly, and we watch with helpless fascination as he gathers more clues.

I dare not reveal anything more about the plot, the characters, or the nature of the Source Code. When it comes to the latter, I couldn’t reveal anything even if I wanted to; I listened to Goodwin slowly drop hints, and I paid careful attention to her superior, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), but their attempts at explaining the process were ultimately more perplexing than the process in and of itself. I’m well aware that certain movies require suspension of disbelief. They’re called fantasies. The issue here is that Source Code is clearly intended as science fiction, which, if done correctly, tells stories about ideas that are theoretically possible. The further along the film goes, the less plausible it seems; by the time we reach the ending, we have crossed into the realm of the preposterous.
I’m often times critical of comic book and video game adaptations, which tend to have no audience in mind other than those intimately familiar with the source material. If the average viewer can’t enter a movie cold and get something out of it, the filmmakers have succeeded only in creating a two-hour insider reference. Movies about the manipulation of time tend to do the same thing; the only people likely to understand them are scientists or those deeply entrenched in science fiction fandom. For someone like me, Source Code is equally intriguing and infuriating, a film whose very concepts can only be admired at arm’s length. Or could it be that I missed something along the way, something so obvious that even the most dimwitted would have spotted it? If you’ll excuse me, I must now have my IQ reevaluated.


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April 03, 2011
Great review, after reading you and WP's reviews I am interested in this flick.
April 03, 2011
It is an interesting film, but I think it was a little too advanced for me. Either that, or the filmmakers had no idea what they were doing.
April 02, 2011
Great critique, Chris! we rated this the same, and I feel the same way. I wanted to like this feature but the alternate reality mumbo-jumbo felt very made up. For me, a film with such a premise needs to build the theories, characters and then strengthen those theories through its story. This one contradicted itself imho, affected my overall enjoyment of it. Maybe I was just dumb...I've added a spoiler-rich discussion on my review at the bottom, because I want folks to give their take since I may have missed something...
April 02, 2011
According to Roger Ebert's 3.5 star review, it doesn't matter that the science of this film is preposterous because it's treated with the greatest urgency. In other words, if it's entertaining, then the fact that it makes no sense is inconsequential. I'd agree if the film were a fantasy. But this is science fiction, a genre of ideas. I didn't hate this movie -- I just wish it made more of an effort to be understandable.
April 03, 2011
I agree on you on that. Sci fi needs a credible groundwork for me as well. By the way, perhaps you'd like to chime in on this question:
More Source Code reviews
review by . April 02, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Alternate Realities Diverge And Multiply in The Source....
“Moon” was an underappreciated sci-fi drama that never exactly made that much profit in the box-office. I really did enjoy the movie “Moon” which is why I was willing to take a chance with director Duncan Jones' latest attempt at a action/sci-fi thriller called “Source Code”. When I saw the trailers, it hit me as sort of a "Quantum Leap" and “Next” colliding with “Groundhog Day” and the cult movie “Retroactive”. …
review by . April 01, 2011
The Source Code Delivers
Following upon his breakout success with the film Moon director Duncan Jones has returned with Source Code and has proven that he is not a one-hit wonder but also a talent on the rise. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens who, after waking up on a train, finds himself disoriented and unable to identify his travel companion, the attractive Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), who sits across from him eagerly discussing things they appear to have spoken about previously. Taking a quick …
review by . April 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   Source Code is a suspenseful, surprisingly intelligent, occasionally touching, movie that’s far better than I’d expected it to be. With tight pacing, great editing, good acting and fine directing by Duncan Jones, best known for Moon, it’s a very good sci-fi action film released outside the usual summertime area for such movies. The film tells the tale of a man (Jake Gyllenhall), who wakes up on a train. He has no idea why he’s there or who the woman across …
review by . August 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     "Source Code" is an engaging thriller, a touching human love-story, and an intelligent science-fiction flick all rolled up into one 90-minute film. That's a lot of ambition, and if you know the concept of the film, you'll know exactly how much this film carries with it. I suppose you either like it - and many will - or you don't. I didn't find it to be masterful, but for what it is; I was appreciative of it. Here's a thriller that is truly thrilling, and a …
review by . March 31, 2011
Problems at the Source
THE SOURCE CODE   Written by Ben Ripley   Directed by Duncan Jones   Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Mognahan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright       Colter Stevens: It’s the same train but it’s different.       The dreamy Jake Gyllenhaal is doing a little dreaming of his own, his head resting against the glass as he rides a commuter train into Chicago, one seemingly random morning. This is the onset of …
review by . May 02, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
You wake up on a Chicago Commuter train. You are disoriented you feel out of place in this situation as if this is some kind of surreal hyper-realistic, vivid dream. It feels so real so lifelike you start to look around to try to get your bearings when you hear a beautiful woman's voice calling you but she is calling you by a name that you are not familiar with, she is calling you Sean. But your name is not Sean   you have no idea who she is or what is going  you try …
review by . April 12, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an american soldier who wakes up in the body of a man he does not know. On a train to who knows where, his last memory is of him flying a helicopter in Afghanistan. He looks in the mirror and sees a different man, and after only 8 minutes in the train it explodes. Stevens then wakes up in some form of a pod, and is informed by a woman named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) that he is the main part of a mission to find the bomb, and bomber that is in the Chicago …
review by . March 31, 2011
'Source Code' 'Two Jews On Film Aren't On The Same Track With This SciFi Thriller (Video)
'Source Code' directed by Duncan Jones stars Jake Gyllenhaal as decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens who wakes with a jolt to find himself on a commuter train heading into Chicago.       Although the other passengers all seem to know him, including a woman, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan, seated across from him, Colter has absolutely no idea where he is or how he got there.  The last thing he remembers is flying a helicopter in Afghanistan.     …
review by . July 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Source Code' Reboots the Sci-Fi Action Thriller Franchise
'Source Code' does what 'Vantage Point' tried, but failed, to do. It makes us look at a public scene where some imminent violence or calamity is about to take place, and then backs up to show us the same scene again with a different point-of-view. As has been stated time and time again, Source Code's method may be preposterous science fiction--like anime' adventure 'Paprika,' but its thrust is decidedly more closely aligned to 'Groundhog Day'.   …
review by . April 04, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Sometimes it feels like original ideas are against the rules in Hollywood; most of the movies that get made, even the good ones, are rehashes of the same old ideas. This year's Best Picture winner, for instance, was a film about an unorthodox therapist who is able to help our protagonist when other therapists have failed.  Someone recently pointed out to me, it's the same basic plot as "Good Will Hunting;" I mentioned that "Mary Poppins" is cut from the same cloth …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


When decorated airman Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he's part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he's ever known, he learns he's part of a government experiment called the "Source Code", a program that enables him to cross over into another man's identity in the last 8 minutes of his life.

With a second much larger target threatening to kill millions in downtown Chicago, Colter re-lives the incident over and over again, gathering clues each time, until he can solve the mystery of who is behind the bombs and prevent the next attack, but he eventually falls in love with one of the passengers.

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Director: Duncan Jones
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Release Date: April 1, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Ben Ripley
Studio: Summit Entertainment
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