Dir. by Duncan Jones - 1 hr. 33 min.
When I saw the trailer for this movie, I wasn't terribly impressed. It focused on what would turn out to be the two least interesting things about this film: explosions and the love story. I understand the impetus to do so - you can rarely go wrong by underestimating your audience's intelligence. But, by obscuring the true focus of the film and instead making it look like it's about stopping the one of the many explosions before they blow the girl up for good, this film was drastically undersold.
"Source Code" stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays a military helicopter pilot (Colter Stevens), possibly wounded, definitely disoriented. He's strapped into a pod of sorts, and is part of a military program that the woman on the screen (Vera Farmiga, playing Goodwin) will not explain to him. Stevens is sent into what he thinks is some kind of field test - he's on a commuter train headed to Chicago that's about to be bombed, and he's got eight minutes to figure out who did it in order to prevent a further, more serious attack. When he fails, he has to start over with another eight minutes on the clock. What makes this possible is called the source code, which I won't try to explain.
This is one of the first times I've ever seen a video game influence on a movie that actually works. Any gamer knows the frustration of finding a level that they just cannot figure out. That's not to say that any of this has anything to do with video games, and this isn't a fresh idea (the obvious comparison is "Groundhog Day," with a little "The Butterfly Effect" thrown in as well), but the military and thriller aspects of the movie lean towards that comparison. Plus, there are several of those moments in the film where you can see that Stevens is figuring out what he needs to do even as he's failing at it.
So yes, there are a bunch of explosions, and yes, there is a sort of a love story (with Michelle Monaghan, called Christina), but what is more interesting here is initially the mystery of who is responsible for bombing the commuter train, and then the realizations that Stevens comes to in the second half of the film (which would be unfair to discuss here). There's also the question of just how much can one person accomplish in eight minutes, which turns out to be one hell of a lot (especially if you don't have to worry about what comes after those eight minutes). And the metaphysical turn late in the film is both great, and great science-fiction. The actors also do a very good job with the material. Gyllenhaal is a good anchor, and it's a lot of fun (even in tense moments) to get to see a batch of people play out several strings in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story.
"Source Code" is a really good movie - on the whole, everything holds up at a first glance, and the run time blows by. A lot of the descriptions of this movie focus on the thriller aspect, which is present, but it's the sci-fi ideas that form the foundation. It's probably harder to do a good sci-fi movie than some other genres (the basic ideas stretch believability frequently), so it's worth applauding when a movie and a filmmaker do it right.
4 / 5 - Theatre