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4 reviews, 10 user ratings

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Source Code
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Train Kept A-Rollin' (Over And Over)"
4 stars

“Source Code” is one of those movies that I suspect is best appreciated by those who go into it knowing as little about what they are about to see as possible. Seriously, no commercials, no trailers, no reviews--not even one as brilliantly conceived and executed as this one. Therefore, if you are still in the blessed position of knowing nothing about it, stop reading this review right now, go out and see it--trust me, it is worth it--and then come back to it later in order to see just how correct I was this time around. Then again, even if you do know a thing or two about it going in as I did, it still holds up pretty well as a slick and efficient serving of high-quality cinematic fast food that goes down smooth and leaves consumers satisfied as long as they don’t think too long or too hard about the details of what they have just swallowed.

The story opens on a commuter train heading into Chicago during the morning rush period as a man named Sean (Jake Gyllenhaal) suddenly wakes up and finds himself in conversation with his lovely seatmate Christina (Michelle Monaghan). Under normal circumstances (if one can consider finding someone who looks like Michelle Monaghan on a commuter train to be “normal circumstances”), this would be a dream come true but it is anything but that for Sean. For one thing, he claims that his name is actually Colter Stevens and he has no idea who Sean is. For another, he also says that he is an Air Force pilot and the last thing he recalls is flying a mission in Afghanistan. Then there is the inescapable fact that when he goes into the bathroom to try to pull himself together, someone else’s face appears in the mirror reflection. This is mighty confusing but Colter has little time to ponder what has happened because just then, a bomb goes off that theoretically kills everyone on the train but which lands him inside a weird machine with another unfamiliar woman, Colleen (Vera Farmiga) appearing on a monitor asking him what information he was able to collect.

As Colleen explains, Colter, or at least his mind, is now part of a top-secret government project known as “Source Code,” a program devised by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) that allows him to enter the body of a newly deceased person and live out their last eight minutes. It turns out that the train bombing is only the appetizer before a major dirty bomb attack on downtown Chicago later that morning and the theory is that by sending Colter back to that train, he can hopefully piece together enough clues to identify the bomber so that they can be apprehended before the next bomb can go off. The catch, however, is that Source Code, as Rutledge explains, is not so much time travel as it is time reassignment and while Colter’s information can prevent the later bombing that has yet to happen, the train explosion is inevitable and no matter what he attempts, his efforts always end with the train blowing up as if he was trapped inside the world’s most sadistic Choose Your Own Adventure book. Nevertheless, Colter thinks otherwise and tries to simultaneously identify the bomber and prevent the train from exploding, all the while trying to keep Christina, who is still under the belief that he is a schoolteacher named Sean, from thinking that he has gone insane.

On the surface, “Source Code” may not sound like the most startlingly original premise for a movie--it will strike many people as essentially being “Groundhog Day,” albeit with stakes slightly higher than trying to become a better person and winning the heart of Andie MacDowell, with a few dollops of “12 Monkeys” and any number of “Twilight Zone” episodes for good measure. And yet, while screenwriter Ben Ripley may have had plenty of inspirational sources for his work, the end result doesn’t feel like a knockoff because he has taken a potentially gimmicky premise and worked in enough intriguing twists and turns to keep it from growing repetitive after a while. In addition, he manages to flesh out his lead characters in interesting ways despite the limited amount of time that he has given himself to do so. Luckily, the screenplay doesn’t get too bogged down in the mechanics of Source Code for the most part--movies involving time travel are always more successful when they don’t try to over-explain the details--but it does stumble a bit in the final reels when certain things are allowed to occur that we have been told over and over could not possibly happen under any circumstances for no other reason than to help provide for a more commercially viable conclusion. As these things go, the finale isn’t that horrible but there is a sense in which it feels like a little bit of a cheat.

“Source Code” is the second film from director Duncan Jones and like his previous effort, 2009’s “Moon,” it is a science-fiction film that pays homage to classics of the genre (no less than “2001”in the case of the earlier film) without turning into a slavish imitation and which is more interested in telling a story that relies more on ideas that lavish special effects to get its point across. While I prefer the trippier aspects of “Moon” to the more plot-oriented “Source Code,” he once again does an excellent job of keeping things moving along at a brisk and clean clip without letting the mechanics of the story bog things down. He is perfectly capable of staging big action scenes with uncommon grace and skill but is equally adept at putting across the little things as well, such as the importance of a spilled cup of coffee in the grand scheme of things. He has also cleverly cast the film with actors who bring enough unique baggage to their roles that their mere presence helps to fill in some of the blanks. In the hands of other actors, the role of Colter and his plight might seem ridiculous but in the hands of Gyllenhaal, who previously bent time and space in the equally bent cult classic “Donnie Darko,” the premise somehow seems a little more plausible. Likewise, Monaghan has one of those personalities that is so charming and infectious that it is easy to understand why Colter would try to violate the time-space continuum in order to save her.

“Source Code” is a pretty ingenious attempt to create a serious-minded thriller that relies more on ideas than effects to get its point across. I am not entirely certain that it will hold up upon repeat viewings as well as “Groundhog Day” has proven to do so successfully over the years. Then again, at a time when most films these days are unable to manage the simple act of holding up over the course of a single viewing, that seems like a fairly petty quibble. This is a smooth, smart film that offers viewers plenty of thrills and suspense to take home with them--even more so if their post-screening commute involves traveling by train.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21669&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/31/11 23:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell not bad imho 4 stars
10/24/11 Annie G Forgettable title; mediocre film that doesn’t stand up to any thinking. 3 stars
10/19/11 KingNeutron Very good performance by Jake - thought-provoking film 4 stars
8/13/11 mr.mike Great thriller , complex plot. 4 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles Briliantly awesome 5 stars
4/20/11 Ace-of-Stars The extended "feel-good" ending left me cold, but overall an enjoyable & unique experience 4 stars
4/14/11 nancyn awesome awesome awesome 5 stars
4/13/11 damalc maybe the best approach to time manipulation i've seen on film. nothing like "Moon." 4 stars
4/07/11 Bob Dog Moon For Dummies 3 stars
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  01-Apr-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Jul-2011


  DVD: 26-Jul-2011

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