Directed by: Duncan Jones
Premise: A soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up to find himself in a virtual simulation of a recent terrorist attack in which he is able to interact with the victims in the last eight minutes before the attack. As the simulations continue, reality becomes increasingly plastic.
What Works: Source Code is an attempt at thoughtful and speculative science fiction and at moments it has scenes that are both emotionally resonant and intellectually interesting. The story deals with the subjective nature of memory and the way our perception of reality shapes our understandings of ourselves and others. The concept of Source Code mirrors that of Groundhog Day and although it does not play it for laughs, Source Code does share some of the themes of redemption and it brings these themes to a satisfying—although sentimental—conclusion in the finale. The performances of Source Code are impressive and the actors do a lot to expand their characters beyond the very limited substance of the script. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the soldier looking for the bomb hidden within the simulation and Gyllenhaal invests his character with a soldier’s sense of duty that shows off in the way the character carries himself through the mission. Vera Farmiga plays the simulation facilitator and she makes very good choices, first presenting herself as a harsh and icy commander but gradually revealing the humanity of the character, creating empathy between her and Gyllenhaal’s character and between her and the audience. But the role that impresses the most is Michelle Monaghan as a train passenger. Monaghan has to go through the same basic motions many times and she makes smart choices in each version that create subtle differences in each incarnation of the simulation. It isn’t a loud or flashy role but it is an example of very good acting.
What Doesn’t: Source Code, although ambitious, does not come even close to similar films like The Matrix, Minority Report, and 12 Monkeys in quality, insight, or coherence. The film plays fast and loose with the internal logic of its story world, especially in the ending, and the filmmakers fail to create any limitations on themselves or this concept that might create interesting story obstacles for the character to overcome.
Bottom Line: Source Code is an interesting piece of science fiction. It lacks the more complex ideas featured in the films it cops from, but as a standalone science fiction thriller it is appropriately exciting and enjoyable.
Episode: #334 (April 10, 2011)