Source Code (Rated PG-13) Five Stars
Source Code (93 minutes) is the best Philip K. Dick novel that Philip K. Dick never wrote. It bears a resemblance to several other “hard” science fiction films, even if the science is a little fuzzy. Get out your blender, toss in Total Recall, Groundhog Day, The Matrix, then sprinkle with a topping of misdirection. Director Duncan Jones where have you been all my life? Hey! He directed Moon! That was also good.
The film starts off with disorientation. Tricksy camera angles distort a suspiciously clean city … supposedly Chicago, but very, very, shiny and new. All kinds of red herrings are set before the audience, and some are even relevant. Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself in the middle of a, ahem, quantum leap. It is unclear if he is perhaps a little nuts or possibly experiencing a psychotic break during the eight minutes immediately preceding him getting hit in the face by a huge explosion.
Then it turns out that he was not actually hit in the face by a huge explosion … it was teacher Sean Fentress, whose body he is borrowing, who was actually melted by the incoming fireball. He figures this out only after a positively exhausting interview/sort-of-debriefing with Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, who reminds me more of a Cate Blanchett/Tilda Swinton hybrid in every film she does). He irritatingly refuses to put the lives of other people ahead of his own confusion, repeatedly demanding answers that he is clearly not going to get.
Finally, Captain Goodwin gets it through his thick skull that he is part of a special program combining quantum whoosit with whatchyamacallit parabolic science and the movie Memento. But enough physics! Time to return to the Source Code, where Captain Colter has eight minutes to get as much information as possible about a train bombing so the army guys (and Captain Goodwin) can prevent an even bigger bombing. Not that he can change anything, so don’t even worry about that. Even if you subscribe to the many worlds theory, Dr. Rutledge points out that Colter would not be changing reality prime (that’s kind of a Sliders reference, but mostly I made it up), he would just be creating a totally new reality.
He is sent back? (in? through? to?) and manages to avoid sounding crazypants this time. He has a slightly different conversation with Christine (Michelle Monaghan) the woman sitting across from him than he did during the opening credits, and he becomes convinced that the things he does on the train actually create change in the “real” world. Thinking about it now makes my head hurt, but at the time it made total sense.
He starts to wonder what is going on with his reality as the metal capsule he is strapped into seems to be deteriorating in between trips. Jerky Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright, or “Basquiat” to the hardcore art nerds) points out that there a larger issues at stake, and every second they spend pandering to Colter’s insecurity about the nature of reality is one less second they are trying to prevent the annihilation of Chicago.
With each trip, he gathers marginally more intelligence, but also becomes more certain of two things. First, he is not being told the whole truth about his status. Second, he can save the otherwise doomed people on the train. He begins to gather intel about himself as well as about the pending explosion.
Colter does eventually get answers, and so does the audience. Half the fun is speculating about where he actually is, and if any of his desperate attempts to communicate with reality prime are successful. Overall, a superb addition to the time loop genre deserving of a much larger audience than it is getting.