Review: “Source Code” needs some reprogramming

April 1st, 2011 at 12:01 am by under Entertainment

 Director Duncan Jones’ second feature length movie may not be as good as his first (“Moon”), but the premise and layers of “Source Code” are enough to keep you entertained before this thriller starts to freeze up… that is, if you like this kind of movie.

The PG-13 rating is fair as its imagery is too much for younger viewers, but probably okay for most teens and adults.

 (My spoiler-free review)

There’s an ominous feeling at the beginning of the movie, like something bad is going to happen – you hear it in the music and see it in the overhead camera angles.   If you’ve seen any previews for this movie or read the synopsis, you probably already know what that event is… but while the explosion of a bomb on a train in Chicago is the tragedy… its how the main character is going to deal with the events that is the real focus of the movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal brings some real “everyman” qualities to soldier Captain Colter Stevens who is suddenly thrust into the last 8 minutes of the events leading up to the explosion – its his mission to figure out where the bomb is, who did it, and why they did it.   Director Jones uses very effective devices we’ve seen before in movies in a new and different way to put the audience in the movie – so we are trying to figure out what is going on – along with Captain Stevens.  We learn things as he does, can see the things he observes, and start to try to figure out the mystery before the bomb goes off and hundreds of people die.   This becomes a “what would you do” kind of scenario – how would you respond to the information and the situation that he’s put into.  But there’s also a solid dose of reality here: in his early discoveries, Captain Stevens has an expected reaction – thinking he’s in a computer simulation, and later he also uses the technology to figure out what the military/government operatives that are running the program aren’t telling him.

“Source Code” has elements of the classic comedy fantasy “Groundhog Day” (1993) – as Captain Stevens investigates further, he goes through the events again and again, interacting differently with the characters and they act differently based on his changes.

While the movie doesn’t exlplain right away how exactly the technology works, its not a distraction, just something the viewer is left to accept… and it didn’t bother me, but this kind of making you think/pay attention movies is something I enjoy.   If that requirement or this genre of movies isn’t your taste, then this is probably a movie to skip or wait to rent.

Throughout the movie, the filmmakers slowly try to explain how it works, but almost to a fault, because in the last third of the movie, I felt that there was so much going on, including excessive unneccesary explanations both verbally and visually how the technology works… in this situation, I think less could have been more effective.  Less would have been more, especially when more is revealed about Captain Stevens at the end.

The movie also gets bogged down in the last third as it presents possible interpretations for the audience on how the movie’s storyline ends.   The biggest issue that keeps me from recommending this movie to everyone is that there’s an added morale dilemma presented in that last 30 minutes.  This potentially will have you thinking more about the morale and ethics of the program designed to combat terrorism… rather than the cinematic ride that just ended and has you trying to figure out your interpretation of how the movie ended.

Although set in the real world, “Source Code” doesn’t try to pass itself off too much as real – there are no location or time titles or graphics in any of the scenes to suggest that this might be going on right now.

Michelle Monaghan adds some pleasant humanity to the otherwise cold emotions of project leaders Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright, who do a admirable job in their clear roles that are slightly skewed by a gray morale area that I’ve mentioned above, but don’t want to spoil for you.

The cinematography may be rough and close-up, but its well designed to put us in the confines of the commuter train.  The editing, music, and almost-realistic acting of the other characters also helps push this story along.  Director Jones and his team also infuse some comedic and romantic moments into what is an otherwise harrowing situation.


This interesting, engaging thriller with a mystery that needs to be urgently solved is captivating, but its starts to get bogged down at end in explaining too many details and adding a morale dilemma at the end.  I give it 7.5 out of 10 … and although a majority of the people at the screening I attended had negative things to say about it, I think this movie has enough positive things going for it before it … derails.

  “Source Code”

(2011) (rated: PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language)
(1 hr, 33 min)

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Cas Anvar, Russell Peters, Brent Skagford, Craig Thomas, Gordon Masten

Director: Duncan Jones ["Moon" (2009)]

Genre: Thriller/Action

The Plot: When decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.  In an assignment unlike any he’s ever known, he learns he’s part of a government experiment called the “Source Code,” a program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

“Source Code” poster courtesy Summit Entertainment

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One Response to “Review: “Source Code” needs some reprogramming”

  1. Mario P says:

    Mario P < <<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>

    Hmm. I might be missing something here, but if Stevens becomes Sean (in the new parallel world created after Goodwin turns Stevens’ life support off) what has happened to Sean in that parallel world? I imagine that in the parallel world, Stevens was still killed in action two months earlier, so in effect he’s come back to life (in the parallel world) in Sean’s body (with his deformed body – and another mind? – waiting for a mission in the alternate reality’s lab).

    But why, then, isn’t Sean in the parallel world too, as himself? Has he effectively been erased by quantum physics (you can’t have two particles in the same quantum state) or something like that? I know Sean died in the ‘real’ world, but so did Christina and all the others (on the real train); so, in this parallel world, where the train doesn’t blow up, Sean should be there too, surely – and not just as a body? The only explanation, as I say, is that Sean’s consciousness gets ‘erased’ from all parallel universes because it’s been ‘occupied’ by Stevens. Which is, when you think about it, kind of creepy?

    On top of all that, the basic premise is weak: replaying memories in a brain (Sean’s) by hooking it up to another brain (Stevens’) is like playing a video tape – you can’t create NEW information, or explore things that Sean wouldn’t know. That’s a pretty big leap, even for science fiction, though no more so than time machines, I suppose.

    The bigger flaw is that if Stevens only has half a brain, he wouldn’t be all that sharp, in reality or in alternate reality. He’d be rather confused, and pretty slow on the uptake to say the least… Also, the research guys in the ‘real’ world do seem to know a lot about the alternate world of the Source Code even though no one has ever been sent there before. Okay, it’s just a film…

    … but actually, the only ‘logical’ interpretation (if that’s what you want) is that the whole thing is a crazed hallucination in the (pretty much fully operational) brain of a war casualty being kept alive in a special ops facility. He imagines the whole lot, including the alternate reality, where he can make up with his dad and fall in love happily ever after…

    Mario P

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