Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
On the way out of the screening of the mind-bending beat-the-clock thriller "Source Code", I overheard a fellow local critic making the comparison, "It's 'Inception' meets 'The Matrix'." Funny (although he wasn't joking), but I was thinking it's "Groundhog Day" meets "Quantum Leap". In any case, it's pretty good.

By combining quantum physics with parabolic calculus (whatever that is), the U.S. Department of Defense has created an effective if also hyper-precise method of sending Jake Gyllenhaal back in time and into a splinter reality to occupy a recently deceased person's body for the last eight minutes of his life in order to gain previously impossible information on threatened serial bombings. Using this information culled prior to the first bombing, the authorities could in theory apprehend the killer and foil his remaining, and considerably more dire bombings before they happen.

"Source Code" is the second feature film directed by the quickly rising Duncan Jones, his first film being the accomplished science fiction drama "Moon" (2009). That alone makes "Source Code" noteworthy. Therefore, the good news is that this film lives up to the promise of "Moon". Jones has carefully crafted an engaging puzzle of a tale that doesn't lack for personal insight and feeling. Unlike the epic "Inception", "Source Code" does not spend an hour establishing the rules of its world. Instead, it bullet-trains straight into the plot, and never lets up, dropping precious nuggets of info as it speeds along. At a taut ninety-three minutes, the fact that the film does as much as it does as well as it does is a truly a storytelling feat to be admired.

Of course, much of what it does are variations on the same scenario again and again, with Gyllenhaal continually reliving the same terminal eight minutes, each time inching ever closer to a cohesive answer to the bomb situation. Getting cohesive answers to his own murky personal situation, however, proves considerably more challenging. In between his deployments on the doomed train, we see that he is being contained in a dark and technologically adorned compartment. His only communication beyond this restrictive environment is with a video feed of Vera Farmiga, who is adorned in military dress garb.

With this film, Gyllenhaal finally breaks out of his recent career rut of having to carry cinematic duds ("Prince of Persia", "Love and Other Drugs"). But it is Farmiga, who with the more difficult part, ends up really proving her talents. Ultimately, she communicates necessary empathy despite being nothing but a disembodied video image for ninety percent of the film. Unfortunately, the film provides no similar opportunities for Michelle Monaghan, who has the thankless part of Gyllenhaal's love interest aboard the train. Granted, she nicely fulfills her narrative purpose (compelling the leading man to fall in love with her), but if anyone's skill-set is shortchanged by the rapid whole of "Source Code", it's Monaghan.

Although I prefer the blend of "Groundhog Day" and "Quantum Leap" here (it works), I can't blame my colleague for associating "Source Code" with the high profile brain benders "Inception" and "The Matrix". There are definitely moments during "Source Code" that successfully challenge viewers' perceptions, as the latter two films do as well. The primary differences are of scope and scale. "Source Code" is comparatively compact, and that is to its credit. It is compellingly heady without becoming hopelessly knotted its own concepts and rules, but also not afraid to ask a few questions and leave a few things for tantalizing post-film speculation. Some may find the structural repetition of "Source Code" a deterrent, but I found it to be an absorbing race against time.

- Jim Tudor

Source Code

  • Duncan Jones
  • Ben Ripley
  • Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Michelle Monaghan
  • Vera Farmiga
  • Jeffrey Wright
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Duncan JonesBen RipleyJake GyllenhaalMichelle MonaghanVera FarmigaJeffrey WrightMysterySci-FiThriller

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