Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Source Code

directed by Duncan Jones


Sometimes, rather than trying to hoodwink an audience with lame pseudo-science, it's safer to put it all down to fantasy. Perhaps if the creators of Source Code had called it magic the plot wouldn't seem quite so messy. The concept is Groundhog Day played out over 8 minutes rather than a whole day. Ex-military pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train bound for Chicago in another man's body, with no memory of how he got there or who anyone around him is. Soon after the train explodes. He has to return again and again and relive the same 8 minutes until he can find a way to stop it blowing up. Every time he fails he has to go back and try to learn a little more about the passengers and the location of the bomb.

In between each jaunt he comes round in a dark, isolated pod. No longer the schoolteacher Sean Fentress, he's back in his old body. His only way of making sense of what's happening is by communicating via a small screen to people in some kind of military control room. Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) is tight-lipped, and she's always in a hurry for him to get back and solve the train's mystery. She needs him to foil an even bigger terrorist threat and save millions of lives. But what isn't she telling Colter?

Colter's experience of reliving the same time over and over is explained with garbled references to quantum entanglement, echoes of memories, and multiple versions of reality. Frankly this annoyed me. It leaves the story full of holes: what happened to Sean the teacher's memories, how can Colter invade his life and live it for him, how can a computer programme open a portal to other versions of reality, and how can relics of memories offer up insights into things someone didn't do or see the first time around? It's a mess of plot holes. I feel cheated of the eerie music and spooky lights that normally appear at this point in films to tell us it's pure magic at work. It's like the way Weird Science expects people to believe a computer can birth a perfect woman, only with less humour and more explosions.

Talking of perfect women, sitting opposite Sean/Colter on the train is Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the obvious love interest. At first Colter thinks she's a simulation, as is everyone else, and he treats them accordingly. But gradually he learns the value of making every minute count, and the story takes a typically gooey turn. Christina's too nice, and the characters on the train are rather bland and similar to each other. Jake Gyllenhaal props up the movie with his ability to switch from lost puppy to gun-toting macho soldier in the blink of an eye, keeping the film moving.

Source Code is quite fast-paced, but for the most part it takes itself too seriously. We do feel for Colter, and we end up having sympathy for Colleen when she's faced with a choice between her job and her conscience. But the limping director of the Source Code programme, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), looks more stereotypical with every line he utters, and the rest of the faintly irritable passengers on the delayed train are scarcely more interesting. The ending is fairly predictable, as cute and feelgood as you'd expect.

Colter Stevens is a strong leading character, and Jake Gyllenhaal plays him convincingly. However between dull supporting characters, flat and uninspiring dialogue, and a heap of pseudo-scientific claptrap that demonstrates a sneering contempt for the audience's intelligence, Stevens has more than Chicago to rescue in this movie. With any luck there won't be a sequel.

13th April 2011

Film Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson


Max     2nd November, 2011 14:09pm

I thought this movie looked like it had potential, something a bit more original than all the remakes we've been presented with lately. Jake Gyllenhaal is good in it, and the plot seems interesting at first. Though once you work out what it's about and who the villain is, it's just another predictable thriller with a sci-fi twist. I'd watch it if there was nothing else on TV except this, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it.