The ideas of the film are far more ambitious and interesting than a lot of other films in cinemas and the result is highly enjoyable and smart. Uneven in tone? Sure, but we should be thankful that an original premise concerning parallel realities delivered with imagination and intelligence is on the big screen.
7:45 A.M., a bomb explodes on a commuter train outside Chicago. The bomber informs authorities that it is the start of a campaign of terror with another bomb in downtown Chicago. Transported eight minutes before the explosion, US army helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself parts of an experimental investigation tasked to constantly relive the event in order to find out who the bomber is.
How is this done? Using quantum mechanics to access the electro-magnetic field of a soon to be dead passenger named Sean, the source code creates a parallel reality is created that lasts only 8 minutes. Whilst pretending to be Sean, Stevens discovers that Sean is a teacher travelling to work with a friend named Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a girl who Stevens uses as an ally in finding the bomb and soon falls for. Stevens only contact with reality is his handler Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who is under the command of chief scientist, Doctor Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). Stevens must investigate his fellow passengers and the surrounding environment whilst investigating the source code.
Parallel realities are a sci-fi staple so it isn’t enough to simply have them, a film must use them inventively and creatively. Thankfully the script makes the alternative realities comedic and tragic variations of the original which include harassing a range of passengers and being on and off the train when it blows up.
What makes the various parallel realities compelling is the fact you like the characters, especially Jake Gyllenhall’s Captain Stevens. Gyllenhall is convincingly bewildered but also personable and eventually determined that sparks to life especially when he allows his oddball side to emerge with a grin.
It makes his action-adventure travails enjoyable. Meanwhile you get an insight into the lives of different characters through the various episodes – nothing revolutionary but solid stuff with Monaghan delightful as the girl Stevens falls for.
The direction is solid which is no surprise considering the director, Duncan Jones, debuted with Moon, a film that used sci-fi tropes to create a film with a suffocating atmosphere and growing paranoia that was also emotionally compelling thanks to Sam Rockwell’s performance. Now Jones has gone Hollywood and the ambition has grown with the budget.
Source Code explores some similar thematic territory but with an expanded cast and sweeping location shots of Chicago.
While the film is not quite as polished as Moon and the tone is somewhat uneven the film worked and bowled through what little incredulity I mustered even when the final fifteen minutes piled on situations that switched between dramatic and tragic, punch the air heroic and a needless switch of antagonists… The lurching tone was not enough to derail the film and I went with it and I enjoyed it.
I was put in mind of 80’s films like Ghostbusters and Back to the Future that end on a high note. Jake Gyllenhall exhorts everybody to seize the day and I can say I did walk out of the cinema thinking, “Everything is going to be okay.”