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Published: Friday, 4/1/2011

Sci-fi thriller 'Source Code' consistently keeps audiences off-guard

BY COLIN COVERT
(MINNEAPOLIS) STAR TRIBUNE

Jake Gyllenhaal plays an Army captain assigned to find a terrorist bomber on a train.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays an Army captain assigned to find a terrorist bomber on a train.
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A Chicago train commuter (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens into a nightmare. Bleary and disoriented, he’s addressed by the unknown woman sitting opposite him (Michelle Monaghan) as though they were old friends. Staggering to the restroom, he sees a face he doesn’t recognize in the mirror. Suddenly the train is blown sky high by a terrorist bomb. Then time rewinds and the countdown to destruction begins again. And again.

Source Code is a bullet train of a thriller that keeps audiences consistently confused and off-guard from the start. It belongs to that well-worn sci-fi subgenre of time-looping, where a character enters the past to change the future.

This time it’s not a volunteer mission. U.S. Army Capt. Colter Stevens can’t remember being drafted into the top-secret government program called Source Code. Its aims are grudgingly explained to him by intelligence officers who address him through video screens in the isolation chamber where he recuperates between trips back to the doomed train. In their view, he’s an underling whose questions are wasting precious time.

SOURCE  CODE

Critic's rating: * * * *

Directed by Duncan Jones; written by Ben Ripley. A Summit Entertainment release, opening Friday at Rave Fallen Timbers, Franklin Park, and Levis Commons and rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language. Running time: 94 minutes.

Colter Stevens ......... Jake Gyllenhaal

Christina ......... Michelle Monaghan

Colleen Goodwin .......... Vera Farmiga

Dr. Rutledge .......... Jeffery Wright

* * * * * Outstanding; * * * * Very Good; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor.

Directed by Duncan Jones; written by Ben Ripley. A Summit Entertainment release, opening today at Rave Fallen Timbers, Franklin Park, and Levis Commons and rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language. Running time: 94 minutes.

Stevens’ assignment is not to prevent the explosion. His task is to relive the final eight minutes of a dead passenger’s consciousness to discover the bomber’s identity so that a more catastrophic second attack can be averted. But Stevens is beginning to fall for the woman who was seated near him on the train that day. And he’s enough of a rebel to try to outmaneuver his controllers and challenge the idea that his fate is already sealed.

Source Code is nimbly directed by Duncan Jones, whose 2009 Moon was probably the past decade’s smartest, most ambitious science-fiction film. Although Source Code’s premise is a Philip K. Dick-style mindbender, Jones plays the story straight. The movie triggers memories of those classic Hitchcock suspense stories starring Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant as a bystander abruptly thrust into life-or-death intrigue.

Setting the action on a train gives the story a claustrophobic sense of urgency and a nice thematic resonance: Is Stevens’ future also moving with unstoppable momentum on a fixed path?

Gyllenhaal’s Stevens isn’t a regulation action hero but a fallible, desperate pawn of some emotional depth, at one point battering a man he suspects is the bomber in a case of racial profiling gone wrong.

As his seatmate, Monaghan has the good looks, sparky intelligence, and quick tongue that establish her as a girl one could swiftly fall in love with. Vera Farmiga delivers a three-dimensional performance as Stevens’ dour military overseer. It’s remarkable the way she earns our trust through a hundred little details betrayed to us by her tightened mouth and inwardly troubled eyes.

The estimable Jeffrey Wright creates something new as the peevish head of the Source Code operation, a mad scientist in the bureaucratic mold. Every player gives it that little something extra (substance, energy, gravitas) to help the story linger in our minds a little longer.



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