Saturday, August 6, 2011

Source Code: A smart sci-fi thriller

I’m always happy to discover a movie that transcends its genre, and is entertaining as well. Source Code (2011) is a mind-bending, well made science-fiction film that delivers on its interesting premise. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a commuter train bound for Chicago, but is unsure about how he got there. A woman sitting across from him appears to know him, and chats with him, but keeps calling him by a different name. When he glances at his reflection, he sees someone else’s face. Suddenly, the train explodes, and he wakes up inside a small capsule, facing a video screen.

He’s disoriented, as the last thing he really remembers is being a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. An Air Force officer on the screen tells him he’s on a mission to find the terrorist who blew up the train. The military believes another, larger attack by the same person or group is imminent, and they need to find them before they carry out their plan. Stevens is told he is part of a project that can send subjects back to an eight minute window in the past; Stevens has that long to figure out the terrorist’s identity; he cannot change what has already occurred, but he can gather the information needed and return to the present.

As he is sent back additional times, we learn more about the mystery of how he got where he is, and why the “Source Code” project is so important. It’s part mystery, part science fiction and part action thriller. As he is sent back again & again, Stevens forms a bond with Christina (Michele Monaghan), the passenger that he is sitting with, but he’s told he can’t save her, because she is already dead. He needs to focus on identifying the terrorist, and saving lives in a future attack. But Stevens begins to question his mission, and if the past can’t be changed after all.

That’s the essence of this intriguing film, that recalls the best of TV’s Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits: two series that told thought-provoking stories that focused on well-drawn characters and their reactions to the fantastic events around them. Source Code was directed by Duncan Jones, who also helmed the 2009 film Moon, starring Sam Rockwell, another interesting sci-fi film, which is also well worth viewing. He's crafted a smart, stylish sci-fi thriller along with writer Ben Ripley.

The cast is excellent, with Gyllenhaal just right as Stevens, who wants to do the right thing, but keeps getting thwarted by the rules of time and space. Vera Farmiga offers solid support as Goodwin, the military contact that helps him journey to the past. Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale) is appropriately prickly as the head of the Source Code project, and Monaghan is good as the woman who Stevens wants to save so badly, he may sacrifice everything to do so. Trivia fans, take note: watch the credits for the actor who portrays Gyllenhaal’s father in a voice cameo; it’s a nice nod to a well-regarded sci-fi series of the past. Another note; director Jones is the son of singer David Bowie.

Check out  Source Code: it’s a pleasant surprise in a genre that too often releases mediocre films that don’t stay with you after they end; this one will. The film is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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