Directed by Duncan Jones. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Cas Anvar. (2011, PG-13, 93 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 1, 2011
Source Code is a gritty, dark, and very entertaining slice of near-future science fiction that on the surface plays like a claustrophobic, marginally more humanistic version of one of 24's more imaginative episodes. There's a terrorist bomb of some kind planted on a Chicago commuter train, and it's already gone off. More are expected to follow. But how to stop it, or them, or anything? Enter Gyllenhaal as Air Force vet Cap. Colter Stevens who, as the film opens, awakens on the train, blurry and confused. He's sitting across from a pretty young woman, Christina (Monaghan), who insists he is not who he knows he is and recognizes him as a fellow commuter named Sean. Disoriented and flushed with unease, he's making little headway when an explosion blows him back into … where? Another reality, it appears. Cap. Colter awakens in a dank, dark cockpit of some kind, suited up and strapped into what looks like a flight simulator. A voice, female, crackles over a dodgy video monitor in front of him, and then an image appears: It's Military Officer Goodwin (Farmiga), who explains, haltingly, hurriedly, that Cap. Colter is part of a secret project that allows him to return, again and again, to the scene of the initial bombing in the guise of the dead man Sean in a desperate bid to determine where the initial bomb was hidden and who the bomber was. The catch? Colter has exactly eight minutes before the explosion blows his new self to bits. Again and again. It's Groundhog Day in hell. Screenwriter Ben Ripley has front-loaded this trippy-smart sci-fi actioner with plenty of great feints and red herrings. Even Cap. Colter's "real" situation is a mystery throughout most of the film. The last thing he remembers is being in combat in Afghanistan, an explosion, and then, suddenly, he's back in this strange compartment with time running out for him and most of Chicago. It's possible to guess where this will all end (and, lest you miss it, the unnamed voice cameo from a certain actor playing Cap. Colter's estranged father is a neat nod to the time-travel genre), but Source Code is nonetheless a model of the nail-biting, race-against-time-and-again template. Gyllenhaal, as Donnie Darko, found himself in a related predicament once before, but amid the recursive conflagrations and sudden oblivions of Jones' film lies a warm and human heart, predestined for doom but beating up a storm despite itself. It's not nearly as complex and eerily existential as the director's debut, Moon, but in its own way it's an even more satisfying time slice of identity-scrambled sci-fi.