Source Code is the story of Captain Coulter Stevens, a helicopter pilot who was fighting in the war in Afghanistan who wakes up and finds himself on a train, but that’s not all he is sat opposite someone he has never met before and he is in fact someone completely different. Then he dies, the train is engulfed in a huge explosion from a bomb hidden somewhere on the train. As strange as the opening five minutes of the film are, the same things happen over and over again. He meets the same people, he dies from the same explosion, and he continues to be this Shaun Fentress. Captain Coulter Stevens is trapped inside the source code, an idea that is that a marriage of ideas between Groundhog day and Quantum Leap where Coulter Stevens constantly relives the last 8 minutes of someone’s life in order to find a bomb and the bomber.
Source Code is many things; first and foremost it is a fantastic follow up to a brilliant debut in Moon. It is also a character study, true to the form of all the recently released sci-fi films, the ones that deal in ideas rather than bombast, anyway. Furthermore, this is a sci-fi film that deals in ideas and concepts, sure the folly of this is that people out there who take science based cinema way to science, they are people who look to sternly at the science rather than fiction. Nevertheless for everybody else, Source Code is a film will be a film bursting with impressive concepts and ideas.
Let’s get back to the idea of the film being a character study. For this to be a character study it means that this is a film where the acting has a greater meaning than usual, this is yet another where the quality of the central performance is what the film lives or dies with. When heard that Jake Gyllenhall was in Source Code, a film that I was really looking forward to, I wasn’t sure what to think. He really has been in some shonky guff over the years, he has some bad films and in his case, for me, the bad far outweighs the good. That was wrong of me to write him off so swiftly, as on the basis on his performance here it is understandable why he has been called one of the most promising actors of his generation. Here, he portrays the confusion and fear that is necessary to make captain Coulter Stevens’ plight believable.
The woman who Gyllenhall awakens opposite time after time, Christina, played by Michelle Monaghan was impressive. For a role that is only in the film for occasional periods throughout an 8 minute window repeated ad nauseam she does a brilliant job. Monaghan becomes a likeable person, which is more than can be said for some of the other performers. Vera Farmiga also does a great job as Goodwin. She starts the film as a cold detatched military adviser and somewhere along the ride she becomes very human and she delivers the frankly shocking twist.
The rest of the cast is mixed. Comparing it Jones’ earlier work the cast here is much larger, and the actors vary between the perfectly fine, doing everything they need to do to be watchable and plain bad. Those who are perfectly watchable are those who occupy the train that Captain Stevens is continuously sent to, the bad comes from an unexpected avenue. Jeffrey Wright, a highly valued and rated actor plays the Dr Rutledge, is unequivocally the worst thing about Source Code. He delivers his lines with the same sort of delivery you would expect from a narrator on one of the Roland Emmerich’s neo-ecological global disasters and not the latest film from one of the best young directors working.
The only other negative I could find was a bit of lazy writing in an otherwise stellar script by Ben Ripley. Terrorists. The whole justification behind the source code project was to fight against terrorists, the laziest enemy plot device used in contemporary cinema. This isn’t a problem with the film per se; it’s just a problem. The world fears terrorist attacks more than anything and cinema echoes this by using it as a justification for evil-doing rather than characterising their antagonists.
One problem what you would expect the film to have is repetition, you would expect Source Code to be slightly dull through repetition of the same events but no, that’s not true. Admittedly for a while there is the same few things happening whenever we follow the film into the source code, Monaghan saying “I took your advice, it was good advice”, a passing woman spilling her drink on her shoe, a nearby passenger getting riled up, amongst other things. At the beginning, yes it is repetitive, but then the film catches on to this. It uses clever editing to disguise the repetition and the film develops at such a pace that you don’t really have the time to dwell on what people would typically construe as a negative.
Other than that those few problems, this is a stellar film. It’s a stellar film that is many things to many people. Like The Adjustment Bureau before it, Source Code is a sci-fi story that is accessible to many. The classic idea of sci-fi is a manly cinematic style, accessible only to geeks, nerds and manly men. Just like the aforementioned Adjustment Bureau, there is a very strong romantic plot running throughout the film. This made the story more complete for me; it gave the story a human touch, pathos. It gave the film a soul that will make it equally as watchable and touching in multiple viewings. Not to mention that twist too, that will help massively in repeat viewings.