a critiQal film review Source Code (2011)

Plot: When Capt. Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he’s ever known, he learns he’s part of a government experiment that enables him to cross over into another man's identity in the last 8 minutes of his life. With a second, much larger target threatening to kill millions, Colter re-lives the incident over and over again, determined to discover the bomber's identity.

674 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 22s)

Back in April, we were excited to see new release Source Code, which looked like Groundhog Day (1993) mixed with The Matrix (1999). Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out, and we didn’t end up seeing the film in theaters.

Then, when it was released in July, we were a bit hesitant to check it out. Only 3 months between it’s release date and it’s arrival on home video didn’t sound like it boded well for any film. Still, we added it to the top of our queue, and when we received it, there were still enough memorable scenes from the trailer playing through our heads that we immediately sat down to check it out.

Would Source Code be as entertaining as we hoped, or was there a reason it went from theaters to DVD in only 3 months?

Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have shaken off the cobwebs that were still evident during his action sequences in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), diving into his role as Capt. Colter Stevens in Source Code with an entirely fresh attitude. His character fits him this time around like a second skin, and the viewer never has cause to doubt he is who he says he is.

His secondary cast is pretty decent as well, with Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III (2006)) playing his seat neighbor with ease. While it’s basically the same character she played in Mission: Impossible III (2006), Source Code gives her ample time to breathe even more life into her character. It’s easy to see why Capt. Stevens becomes attached to her, and why he eventually stops focusing on the mission, and more and more on her.

Vera Farmiga is also spot-on in her military-gal-with-a-heart role, but Jeffrey Wright, as the quirky scientist behind the project, seems a bit miscast – and rather silly-looking with his bushy beard. Still, it’s a chance for him to escape his Bond persona, and while he may look a bit rusty, it’s at least an effort on his part not to get pigeonholed into that one character.

The story itself is the true star of the film. While the actors make the characters work, the storyline, which thrusts the viewers into the situation with as little to go on as Capt. Stevens does, worms it’s way into the viewer’s head and takes firm hold. As both Capt. Stevens and the audience are slowly filled in on the details of just what exactly is happening, the story – which starts out being about identifying the bomber of the train – slowly evolves into a much more personal mission for Capt. Stevens – to the point where finding the bomber seems secondary, even to the audience. Instead, it’s all about Capt. Stevens personal quest of discovery, and as he and the viewer slowly get so wrapped up in that, everything else becomes secondary.

It’s an interesting twist on the time-limit rush to find the bomb, and usually viewers would be sadly disappointed by the slow change of objective, but somehow Source Code makes it work – and does it without the viewer really even noticing – until they discover themselves so intrigued by Capt. Colters himself that they soon think of the rest as mere backdrop.

The special effects do their part, surprising the viewer with the ferocity and closeness of the explosion when necessary, yet slowly fading away as each clue to the story is slowly revealed. By the time the end nears, the big special effects extravaganzas have very nearly faded completely away.

Source Code could easily have rested on it’s tried-and-true storyline of preventing terrorism, thanks to it’s rather intriguing approach to counter-terrorism, and viewers probably would have still been okay with it. Toss in some solid performances from Gyllenhaal, Farmiga and even Monaghan breathing new life into rather stereotypical characters, and combine that with a rock-solid script that gradually draws the viewers off in unexpected (yet oh so familiar) directions, and viewers will be amazed this film rocketed to DVD so quickly.

Check out Source Code for yourself. It will surprise you with how well it’s done.

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