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Reel Time
Review ‘Source Code’
‘Source Code’ offers a compelling blend of sci-fi, drama and suspense
Article published on Monday, April 4, 2011
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Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan star in “Source Code,” from Summit Entertainment LLC.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Colter Stevens in “Source Code.”
Michelle Monaghan stars as Christina Warren in “Source Code.”
“Source Code” gets the big explosion out of the way in the first few minutes – and then things actually get interesting.

Director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley partnered to take a premise straight out of science fiction, add to it an emotive element of drama and fashion it into a taut, elegant thriller.

Decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens – whose last recollection was of a firefight in Afghanistan – wakes up in the body of Sean Fentress, bound for Chicago on a commuter train. He’s traveling with a woman he’s never seen and he has no idea what has happened.

Eight disturbing, perplexing minutes after he regains consciousness, the train is destroyed by an explosion.

Stevens next finds himself in a chamber, still bewildered. A uniformed woman speaks to him from a monitor, asking him questions about his experiences on the commuter train. Gradually, Stevens learns that he’s been assigned to find the person responsible for bombing the train in hopes of preventing a second, more horrific terrorist attack.

In order to discover the bomber’s identity, Stevens is participating in the Source Code program, a top secret government experiment that enables the subject to cross over into another man's identity in the last eight minutes of his life.

Stevens goes on to relive the incident over and over again, repeating those eight minutes and gathering clues – and leaping to a few erroneous conclusions. He also becomes attached to the woman with whom Fentress was traveling and he begins to question some of the science behind his mission. Jones weaves all of these threads together in “Source Code,” mixing the sci-fi concepts of parallel universes and alternate timelines with a riveting suspense, transfixing drama and a measure of mystery.

Jake Gyllenhaal brings to the role of Captain Colter Stevens the perfect blend of frustration, aggravation and determination. Gyllenhaal doesn’t anchor his performance to a cardboard cutout action hero persona; instead, he highlights the character’s trepidation, his confusion and his humanity. The actor gives audiences plenty to admire about Stevens’ resolve and courage as a soldier with an important mission, but he also manages to invoke a sincere sense of compassion. Viewers care about this character’s fate.

Michelle Monaghan stars as Christina Warren, an acquaintance of Sean Fentress. For most of the movie, Monaghan has to replay the same eight minutes of Warren’s life – although as movie progresses and the situation changes, those eight minutes develop quite differently. Monaghan and Gyllenhaal have real chemistry on screen, and the actress does a fine job of making their blossoming relationship credible, even though the outcome appears predestined.

Vera Farmiga portrays Colleen Goodwin, the military woman who provides Stevens with his mission objectives. Jeffrey Wright plays Dr. Rutledge, the creator of the Source Code program. Wright’s Rutledge is only a few pegs down from Dr. Frankenstein on the intensity meter. His is the face of science unobstructed by such trivialities as ethics. Goodwin’s disposition is more complex. Farmiga infuses Goodwin with ample sternness when she’s addressing Stevens as a soldier. When she speaking to him as a human being, though, she reflects the audience’s growing sympathy for his predicament.

To its credit, “Source Code” is not predictable in a way that spoils the suspense. What it does do – quite shrewdly – is let its main character make logical choices, even though those choices aren’t always in alignment with his mission objective. The protagonist makes mistakes – mistakes anyone might have made under such stress.

It’s refreshing to see a hero capable of learning from his mistakes. It makes him more human. Likewise, the villain, once exposed, isn’t an archetype – and his less-than-complex motive is all the more chilling.

Intelligent and exhilarating, “Source Code” doesn’t exploit science fiction for techno kitsch or flashy imagery; instead, it uses the genre to give insight into the human condition.

Quick facts
Film: “Source Code”
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright and Michael Arden
Director: Duncan Jones
Release date: April 1, 2011
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes
Article published on Monday, April 4, 2011
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