‘Tis the season for romantic science-fiction parables about attractive young men prohibited, through their stories’ elaborate conceits, from accessing the brunette beauties who are ready and willing to jump their bones.
In Source Code, which opens wide Friday, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan are a lot like Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau, their blooming romance thwarted by godlike powers that be. The major difference, however, is a matter of national security.
Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up, at the film’s opening, assuming the body and identity of a teacher on a train. Monaghan’s Christina speaks to him as if he were the teacher, whom she has known for some time, and she can’t comprehend his suddenly peculiar behavior.
Eight minutes later, the train explodes and everyone dies.
Colter then wakes up in an enclosed pod but, contrary to his rational assumption, the train test was not a military simulation. The train did blow up that very morning, but, through a wormhole of quantum-physics gobbledygook, the Department of Homeland Security has found a way to transport certain people, mentally, through the time-space continuum and into the body of a person with a similar genetic makeup, who ….
Oh, forget it. You won’t believe any of this until you see it, and even then you probably won’t. But it doesn’t matter – Source Code is jolting, high-energy, briskly moving action-sci-fi-mystery-romance hybrid, and if you don’t try to deconstruct the science behind it, you’ll have a blast. All you really need to remember is Colter’s purpose on the train, which makes for a compelling race-against-time thriller a la Speed or Unstoppable: He has exactly eight minutes to ascertain the identity of the bomber, track him off the train at its one stopping point, and deliver the man’s identity to his controllers at Homeland Security so they can find him before he strikes again.
The number of times Colter can relive these eight minutes is virtually unlimited, so he uses each identical session for incremental improvements in his task: taking mental notes of suspicious activity, locating the bomb, studying its detonation method, ruling out certain passengers – and using the knowledge gained in previous eight-minute “dates” to fall deeper in love with Christina.
So essentially, Source Code is the Groundhog Day of existential counterterrorism, with a recurring fireball of death and destruction instead of Sonny and Cher. An elegant metaphysical construct inside an elegant metaphysical construct, the train and pod that Colter calls home for the movie’s entirety are veritable riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas.
As the equivalent to the business-suit wearing throwbacks in The Adjustment Bureau, these enigmas are presided over by a couple of convincing, real-world-in-real-time human beings whose presence ushers us into the complex environments. Vera Farmiga plays Carol, the Homeland Security agent who doles out instructions to Colter, and a hobbled Jeffrey Wright is Carol’s supervisor, an impatient government huckster hoping this experience with the “source code” will lead to its mainstream acceptance by the Pentagon.
Also like The Adjustment Bureau, Source Code is a political thriller that isn’t very political, but both have their old-fashioned charms. In Source Code, much of this charm draws from the train setting, which evokes a musty, quaintly Hitchcockian ambience. As I tiptoe around the sacrosanct sin of plot spoilage, suffice it to say that no matter how bad The Adjustment Bureau’s ending was, the climax of Source Code is infinitely worse, belying just about everything we’ve seen before it, including the film’s own strict logic.
Source Code is a wonderful idea that sustains itself in moving and interesting ways for about 85 of its 93 minutes. Walk out at this point and you’ll have experienced something very close to a modern action masterpiece.
SOURCE CODE. Director: Duncan Jones; Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Russell Peters, Michael Arden; Distributor: Summit Entertainment; Rated: PG-13; Release date: April 1, most commercial theaters