Spellbinding 'Source Code' Mystifies a little "Quantum Leap" & "Outer Limits"

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Spellbinding 'Source Code' Mystifies a little  "Quantum Leap" & "Outer Limits"

“Source Code” is a fascinating sci-fi action film that works surprisingly well given the scant logic it gets away with.

The film has been drawing comparisons to several sources including “Quantum Leap,” “Seven Days,” and “The Outer Limits.” These are all obviously made for the basis of the concept, and it doesn’t stop there as the one that stuck out in my mind as the film progressed was to the classic “Groundhog Day,” where a man lives an entire day over and over again in an attempt to get it right, and that’s certainly not a bad thing to be reminded of.


The film begins with Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhall) waking up on a train across from Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), a woman he doesn’t know. She begins to talk as though the two of them had been in the middle of a conversation, but even stranger is that she refers to Colter as “Sean.” He is confused by this as well as disoriented as to how and why he is aboard this train that is just outside of Chicago. Not only that, but when he looks in the bathroom mirror, instead of his own person, he sees someone he doesn’t know. While trying to figure out what’s going on, the train suddenly explodes.


Colter suddenly finds himself in a small, dark capsule where Colleen Goodwin (Vera Fermiga) is trying to get him settled from the experience over a video feed. After he calms down, Goodwin fills Colter in on the situation. He has been chosen as a subject for what is known as the Source Code project, invented by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), in which a person is able to relive the last eight minutes of someone else’s life. Earlier that day, a bomb exploded on a train, killing everyone on board. However, this was only the first attack in a series, the next of which will be an attack on the city of Chicago. Colter’s mission is to find the bomber by reliving the last eight minutes of one of the passengers’ lives aboard the train as many times as it takes.


While the concept has been done before, it doesn’t make this outing any less thrilling. We get the beginnings of an explanation as to how the source code works which deals with how, even after death, there are parts of the brain having to do with short term memory that still work, but we never get more than that. Perhaps that is for the best. Most of the time, the “science” in science-fiction is best left unexplained.


The film itself felt really short, most likely due to its fast-pacing, engaging premise, and, of course, a brief runtime of about 90 minutes. It’s the kind of film that unfolds piece by piece, but doesn’t take too long with it. Each time Colter relives the source code is like when Phil relives Groundhog Day, first starting off with expected confusion, then gradually making bigger changes and different choices in an attempt to get things right.


Colter’s first time through the code is understandably disorienting, not knowing where he is or why he appears to be someone else. However, once he’s briefed, we realize that there is a ticking clock behind him that’s getting closer to another devastating event that will cost millions of others their lives. Once Colter realizes this, his mission kicks into full gear.


We get to witness several of his attempts at finding the bomber and the methods he uses, starting off with him simply observing behavior, looking for people who seem shy and removed, and eventually looking for those with cell phones as a means for detonating the bomb. These attempts become more and more desperate as he follows passengers and goes through their bags, all while falling for his fellow passenger, Christina, who apparently knows the man Colter has taken over.


There are other mysteries running through some of the film about how Colter came to be in this program, where he is, and why he was chosen, but these are revealed rather quickly. This was most likely done in order to give the third act more meaning, which is where the main issue of the film arises. The main plot of the film ends a lot sooner than the film actually does. After about an hour, the main storyline is wrapped up, but the movie itself continues on with a small sideplot for about the last 25 minutes.


The sideplot is not bad, boring, or completely unrelated, but it would have been nice if the writer, Ben Ripley, has been able to carry the mystery elements further into the film instead of wrapping them up much earlier than expected. The first hour of the film is incredibly tense as Colter tries repeatedly to find the bomb on the train and then the bomber. If Ripley had been able to keep that up through the whole film, it would have made for an even better experience.


That being said, this is still one of the better science-fiction films to come along for awhile. The director, Duncan Jones, surprised everyone when he burst onto the scene back in 2009 with his small hit “Moon,” in which a lone astronaut has a bit of an identity problem of his own. Here, he has crafted another film about a man in a desperate situation that’s thrilling, entertaining, thoroughly engaging, and definitely worth a look. 3/4 stars.