Think Inception, Groundhog Day and a touch of The Matrix, and you’ll begin to see why this crisp bit of cinematic distraction is more than simply entertaining.
Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones, stars a resilient and compelling Jake Gyllenhaal as Sgt. Colter Stevens, a fighter pilot assigned to Afghanistan who suddenly “awakes” in another man’s body. Another man’s body on a commuter train about to be blown sky high.
Gyllenhaal has landed back on his feet with this part, and with his sweetly feral face set to register every nuance of his character’s situation, he completely owns this film from heart-pounding start to almost satisfying ending.
Turns out, Gyllenhaal’s character is a man suspended between worlds, literally, and we meet him as he tries to figure out why he suddenly has another man’s body and how he got on that train. But no. After eight minutes, Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is thrust back into a technological somewhere, talking to a computer screen about failing his “mission.” Vera Farmiga plays the military operative running the mysterious program involving Stevens and she sends him “back” to the commuter train, with the mission to find the bomb which is about to blow it up. He has eight minutes. He always has eight minutes.
This scenario repeats itself over and over, with slight twists, ala Groundhog Day. And each time, Stevens learns a bit more about how to locate the bomb, and eventually the bomber. He inlists the aid of lovely Michelle Monaghan, a woman on the train who appears to know him. And gradually, he builds enough rapport with his cyberspace handler to convince her to give his “program” a bit more time.
Like most Philip K. Dickean premisses, this one takes a simple, but high concept and works it to the very edges. Source Code is exhilirating, fun and smartly made—actually the editing, gorgeous overhead tracking shots of the train about to pull into a Chicago hub, and the vertiginous sense of being lost in a space that might be real, all could form the basis of a solid filmmaking graduate seminar.
But it’s really all about Gyllenhaal’s acting savvy, his ability to make us believe the physical aptitutude of his character (which we never had any trouble with) as well as the darker, more poignant edges of his existential dilemma. I won’t spoil this one for you—it is easily the most pleasurable movie movie you’ll see so far this year. The ending, which I found charming in a 19th century romantic way, leaves many ends untied and stretches space/time metaphysics a lightyear too far. No matter.
Just go see it.