Source Code (2011)

Source Code is a ridiculous film in a lot of ways and it doesn’t make much sense. Directed by Duncan Jones, it’s a movie that’ll make you think and ask a lot of questions. It just doesn’t seem to have the answers, which can potentially be part of the fun. The cast works exuberantly to cover up the holes and the Ben Ripley script is amusingly urgent in its unveiling of plot mechanics (and subsequent plot holes).

What is at the core of Source Code, however, is a decent component about how we discover information and how we desire to change the past. That’s what keeps this thing afloat and what keeps it from sinking into a mass of long-winded baloney.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, an army helicopter pilot. His last moment of “real” awareness was when he was on a mission in Afghanistan, but our movie starts with him waking up on a commuter train across from Christina (Michelle Monaghan). Not a bad gig if you can get it. Colter eventually comes to grips with the fact that he isn’t himself anymore: he’s Sean Fentress, a teacher and friend to Christina. What the what?

The film unfolds quickly and with energy. Colter soon becomes aware that he’s part of an experimental device created by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) and run by Air Force Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). Colter is allowed to experience and re-experience the last eight minutes of Sean’s life because he’s “compatible.” The reason he’s in this situation is to discover who’s planted a bomb on the train and who intends to blow up Chicago.

The realism of whether one can determine new information by replaying the last eight minutes of someone’s memories is obviously suspect, but who cares? Colter believes that he can affect the outcome of Sean’s memories, but little consideration is given to what memories would remain if he survived the fateful explosion. Of course, little issues like this can all by easily dismissed by suggesting that Source Code is “open to interpretation.”

Movies that mess around with timelines and alternate timelines almost always end up being silly. Source Code is no different. The conclusion is unsatisfying (not in a good way) and blatantly maudlin (all that’s missing is a commuter train sing-along), although the ride to the end is entertaining enough for one trip. If you can leave aside the questionable issues and silliness, Jones’ movie works out okay.

Gyllenhaal and Farmiga are the best reasons to see Source Code if you’re into performances and all that jazz. They bring humanity to the otherwise bulky plot and try to inject determination and energy. Seeing Gyllenhaal return to the train time and time again, whether squabbling with Russell Peters or avoiding a coffee spill, gets to be pretty entertaining. Not quite Bill Murray amusing, but close. There’s something about repetition that can be funny.

The notion about changing the future by observing the events of the past is a good one and there’s a lot of material to mine through in that regard. Sadly, Source Code overplays its hand a number of times and overcooks the ideas. I’m not convinced Jones’ film is something I want to repeat again and again, but the first trip through it wasn’t all that bad.

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