by M. Faust
Air Force Sergeant Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens in a commuter train, seated across from a pleasant and attractive young woman (Michelle Monaghan). He has no idea how he got there, or why this woman, Christina, appears to know him. He’s even more confused when the face he sees in the bathroom mirror is not his. After eight minutes of confusion, a bomb on the train explodes, killing hundreds of people, including him.
Or so it seems. That is the beginning of Source Code, an efficient and satisfying science-fiction thriller that might be described as Christopher Nolan light. The director is Duncan Jones, whose also directed Moon and who presumably inherited his interest in science fiction from his father, David Bowie (né Jones). Because much of the pleasure of this film comes from figuring out what is going on, suffice to say that Stevens is part of an experimental mission that allows his consciousness to be projected into the recent past and to interact with it. It is hoped that he will be able to discover the terrorist who caused this explosion so that further attacks can be prevented. But while his handlers can keep sending him back to those same eight minutes, they only have a limited amount of time before the next bomb goes off. And Stevens can do nothing to prevent the destruction of the train, which becomes increasingly painful as he spends more time with Christina.
Echoing Groundhog Day, Brazil, and the TV series Quantum Leap (whose star Scott Bakula has a voice-only cameo here), Source Code shows that you can get a lot of punch out of a small special effects budget when you have a strong script. The premise isn’t exactly plausible (less so the more it is explained), but by the time we’re in a position to question it we’re hooked by the plot and by the characters, particularly Gyllenhaal’s confused soldier and Vera Farmiga (soon to be seen with Keanu Reeves in the filmed-in-Buffalo Henry’s Crime) as his connection to the real world.
Watch the trailer for Source Code
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