Amtrak probably won’t use this movie to promote their service because of what happens at every eight minute mark, but Source Code is one of the most fun rides on public transportation since Speed.
With scenes of the Chicago landscape that dart in and out of the opening sequence, you get the feeling that you’re seeing the city through the eyes of a traffic reporter in a helicopter. As your view descends closer upon a train, we see a disoriented man listening to his female companion, Christina (Michelle Monaghan). He looks like he’s one nap from a hangover and has no idea who the woman is. Then he stares into a bathroom mirror and doesn’t recognize the face staring at him. And suddenly, the train explodes.
Jarred awake from this scenic nightmare is U.S Army Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal). He’s in a pod reminiscent of astronaut’s, except Stevens last remembers flying missions in Afghanistan. Disoriented, he’s confronted via video by Army lieutenant Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) with word and audio triggers meant to snap him back to reality. Goodwin informs him that he’s been enlisted into a top-secret government computer program dubbed the “Source Code”. Stevens mission is to go back on the train and find the bomber in hopes of derailing (yes, pun intended) an even worse tragedy. He’s got eight minutes to enter the body of Sean Fentriss before the explosion happens.
Directed by Duncan Jones, writer-director of the 2009 BAFTA award winning Moon, Source Code doesn’t shy away from its spiritual cousin Groundhog Day. Jones drops the hyphenated title, content with helming the fantastic script by Ben Ripley (Species III). Gyllenhall was so impressed by the script that he jumped at the chance to bring Jones aboard. The two took the wordy screenplay, tweaking it slightly to add the love interest in Monaghan and to inject just enough humor to make humans run the science and not vice versa. While each trip back to the train reminds of you re-entering the Matrix, every journey back is its own separate story. Jones uses his new big budget freedom to battle the perceived constraints by fleshing out every Source Code as a mini whodunit complete with its own set of suspects. Part of the fun is going through the list of suspects along with Stevens. Is it the jittery college student, the cocky businessman, the obnoxious comedian or someone else? Even the beautiful Christina is a viable suspect. Each Source Code is not just a chapter, but a layer to be unraveled in an ongoing murder investigation.
Jake Gyllenhaal followed Jones’ mantra of “make it weirder” when facing the challenges of playing a hero who gets blown up every eight minutes. Gyllenhaal’s Stevens does make it weirder as no Source Code is ever the same. The changes are subtle at first, but time is of the essence literally and figuratively. Best of all, we’re on his shoulder every step of the way as he not only weeds through suspects on a train, but deals with his attraction and newfound obligation to Christina.
Speaking of Christina, Source Code dips into film noir with the Michelle Monaghan’s seductive brunette. She’s no femme fatale, but she’s got a sexuality that works its way into any mystery. Both Jones and Gyllenhaal wanted Christina to be reminiscent of Monaghan’s Harmony Lane character from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Monaghan put in overtime working with editor Paul Hirsch (Star Wars) to ensure that her performance in each Source Code stood out. And it paid off as she managed to take Christina from innocent bystander to love interest.
Vera Farmiga had her work cut out for her as the perfectly creased officer Colleen Goodwin. Assigned by the somewhat dastardly Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) to be Stevens’ keeper, Farmiga had to invent a backstory for the character who has to do a lot with very little. Part of her role is to keep Stevens in line while
If Groundhog Day is Source Code‘s spiritual cousin, then Quantum Leap is even closer in the family tree. Not only does Steven’s shot of him looking into the restroom mirror to see Sean Fentris (Frédérick De Grandpré) bring back fond memories of Dr. Sam Beckett’s adventures (and occasional misadventures), but don’t be surprised to find a certain nod to the show that doesn’t seem cheesy or forced. Sometimes the science gets a little confusing, but Source Code, like any good train ride offers something for everybody. No matter where the stops are on this thrill ride, you’ll be glad you got on board.
Are you listening, Amtrak?