Source Code Review [SXSW]

Amy Curtis

Reviewed by:
On March 12, 2011
Last modified:June 2, 2013


A very well written script with a great story and an interesting concept make Source Code one of the best sci-fi flicks of the year.

Source Code Review

A sleek sci-fi thriller, Source Code materializes into theatres April 1st. With a smart concept and some fresh takes on established sci-fi elements, this film will leave audiences thinking. Behind the camera is Duncan Jones, who you may remember from his fantastic film Moon. Not to be disregarded as just another sci-fi thriller, Jones turns Source Code into an original and entertaining take on the genre.

The general reaction to this film, when it premiered at Austin’s SXSW film festival this week, was amazing. Not only did the audience applaud the film when it wrapped up, but it seems like Source Code is on everyone’s lips. I always appreciate fresh ideas when it comes to sci-fi movies. There’s a lot out there right now, less re-imagined and more re-hashed. Source Code is smart and new without relying too much on what has come before it. That being said, it does deal with quantum physics and parallel dimensions and all that great solid sci-fi raw material. Where it really excels though is in the well-written, smart script and the touching emotional aspects of the story.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko) plays Captain Colter Stevens, an Air Force pilot who wakes up one day as someone else. He’s on a train, a beautiful woman (Michelle Monaghan) he has never seen before is talking to him, and after eight tense minutes the train explodes and Colter Stevens wakes up as himself again. Only he can’t remember what has happened to him, or how he got into the little box with the screen, and he definitely doesn’t know who the woman on the screen is or why she’s asking him if he’s discovered who planted the bomb on the train.

After much general confusion, audiences begin to piece together the story along with our hero, Colter. The last thing he remembers is flying over Afghanistan, now he’s traveling back and forth in time and he can only communicate from a little cold cell with a video monitor. He learns he’s part of a new project called Source Code. According to the head scientist, a cagey old man with a limp, the source code is a system for sending someone’s mind back into another person who has died, to re-live the last eight minutes of their life. This eight minutes is like a shadow or a memory of life that remains after death. Colter can go back into these eight minutes but he can’t change the outcome of anything. Or at least, he‘s not supposed to.

Source Code lets the audience experience the disorientation Colter experiences as he wakes up as someone else, then dies and wakes up again in complete bewilderment. Information is doled slowly, but the script makes sure there’s no awkward data dump as little pieces of key information are worked out. The head of the project, played with brilliant quirk by Jeffrey Wright, is a great mad scientist type character. A throw-back to some great classic horror and sci-fi films with a disheveled evil genius wreaking havoc. The characters peripheral to Colter naturally don’t get too much development, but for the role they play in the story this isn’t too much of a drawback. Colter’s character is well fleshed-out, and his relationships with those around him carry plenty of emotional punch.

That’s another thing that works in this film. It’s a hard sci-fi, but it’s also a touching emotional story. Colter’s situation is truly tragic, and his helplessness and desperation is undeniable. Gyllenhaal plays Colter with the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability. His romantic interest Christina is likeable if a bit boring, as far as characters go but Monaghan still plays the part competently.

Director Duncan Jones brings us something different in this fast-paced action/thriller, a far cry from the plodding, introspective Moon (his last project). Moon was another great sci-fi film, but with a very different atmosphere and pacing. The concept of Moon surrounded a lonely space station worker and his clone. What strikes me is that, as different as these two movies are, they share a certain tragic element. The moral and ethical themes are also dealt with well, as characters are faced with questions of life, death, and the in-between.

Source Code is one of those films that will keep you thinking long after you’ve left the theatre. It reminded me a little bit of 12 Monkeys as far time travel and predestination themes, but it came across as less bleak. Either way, the film is a real treat and is a must see.

Source Code Review

A very well written script with a great story and an interesting concept make Source Code one of the best sci-fi flicks of the year.