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By ERIC HARRIS, Film Review
Writer-director Duncan Jones made a splash with his 2009 debut feature, “Moon.” It made my Top 10 that year. It was an interesting and entertaining sci-fi film and made many people eager to see what project Jones would make next. Thankfully, Jones stuck with the sci-fi genre with “Source Code” and while he didn’t share a writing credit on this one – it was written by Ben Ripley – it is still an engrossing film with a bit of visual flair.
“Source Code” is about a secret government project that allows a soldier, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), to take over a person killed in a Chicago terrorist attack for the last eight minutes of the victim’s life. This is not a time-travel movie, though. Stevens can’t stop the attack; he can only search for the bomber so the authorities can stop future attacks. This makes “Source Code” a sci-fi mystery film for the most part and it is a compelling mystery. Stevens can go back as many times as need be to find the bomber so the same eight minutes plays out quite a bit.
This doesn’t mean that the eight-minute segments play exactly the same way, of course, but it is populated by the same characters and because of that, the viewer gets to play the part of the detective as well. This is a film that challenges viewers to watch every part of the screen, searching for clues or suspicious behavior. It really makes the movie fun to watch.
At this point you might be wondering about the same time period playing out over and over again. Haven’t we seen Bill Murray in something like this before? And what about this Stevens guy taking over someone else’s body? Is Scott Bakula in this? Yeah, there are similarities between “Source Code” and “Groundhog Day” and “Quantum Leap,” but it’s not that big of a deal. If you go back far enough, everything has borrowed from something over time. A film is only a ripoff if it doesn’t attempt to be its own film, though. “Source Code” is certainly its own film with its own ideas and many of those ideas will lead to after-film discussions.
There is one other similarity to “Groundhog Day,” though; this film has a bit of comedy to it. First, there’s the gimmick of seeing the same thing over and over again. The main character can start to play around with that. Second, and more importantly, these are eight-minute segments and Stevens has infinite lives so he can play it out a bit differently each time and sometimes his attempts are a bit humorous.
Some of the humor in “Source Code” is thanks to the script, but a lot of the credit belongs to Gyllenhaal. He has the flustered part down in the beginning when his character is constantly confused. But he shines once his character catches on and gets into detective mode. Gyllenhaal’s improvised interrogation scenes are very amusing.
“Source Code” is not a straight-up comedy, though. There are a few elements that pack a real emotional punch in the film. First off, there’s Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who Stevens makes a connection with after multiple first meetings. Stevens also has issues with his father. And you start to feel for Stevens himself, who is basically trapped in the titular Source Code until he completes his mission. Side characters have a bit of an arc as well with Vera Farmiga playing Stevens’ handler, who develops a bit of a connection to the beleaguered soldier. Jeffrey Wright rounds out the cast as the off-putting boss of the operation.
A sci-fi film with lofty ambitions like inhabiting another person’s existence and traveling to other realities has the potential to be loaded with impressive visuals, but “Source Code” holds back a bit, to the betterment of the film. The lack of in-your-face visuals allows the focus of the film to remain on the mystery and the emotions of those involved. That’s not to say there are no interesting visual flairs. There are a few cool slow-motion scenes and an interesting freeze frame.
The show stealer – skip to the next paragraph if you want this to remain slightly unspoiled – though, involves a smooth camera movement followed by someone jumping off a moving train while the camera stays with the character who gets scuffed up in real time. Sure, CG was involved but the scene still had a wow factor to it.
“Source Code” has ambitions beyond visual flair, though. Not to spoil anything, let’s just say the definition of reality is messed with a bit. This has left some people to bash the film’s ending for attempting to get into deeper issues, but some – including me – will applaud it. This is a movie that could play it safe and stay normal, but dares to go deeper. That’s a rare thing, so you should check out “Source Code” while you can. It’s easily one of the year’s best films so far.