I recently wrote a review about The Adjustment Bureau in which I described how much I love the idea of a movie that is basically a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Imagine my delight after finding out Source Code would follow in those footsteps. Even better, it took a different approach to the idea than did The Adjustment Bureau. Rather than steering another person’s choices, Source Code is more like Groundhog Day, where the main character is repeating an event and making different choices each time and unable to alter the result. However, that’s about as much as the two have in common and Jake Gyllenhaal never kidnaps and murders a groundhog.
The first thing you have to do when going into this film is accept the premise. “Source Code” is a military program where quantum mechanics and technology allow a live person to be loaded with the last eight minutes of memory of a dead person and live those eight minutes as if it were real. There’s a quick explanation from the creator of the system, Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), that might as well have been in cuneiform considering nobody in the audience is versed in quantum mechanics and theory (if you are, I hate you because you are wasting your talent watching a damned movie when you could be curing cancer or something). If you can’t do that, well, maybe you hate movies, books, and creativity and should just stick to watching porn or Will Ferrell movies – where your brain is optional.
Premises don’t have to be true; they just have to be plausible. Like transforming alien robots or the matrix, they are simply the foundation on which the story is built. In this case, the story is about the military trying to discover the identity of a bomber who blew up a train and is threatening more destruction. Captain Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is the soldier who gets the assignment and must repeat the last eight minutes of one of the victims until he accomplishes the mission. The twist is that he, along with everyone on the train, dies every time the time limit expires, which takes an enormous psychological toll on him. His only grounding point is his “operator” (for lack of a better word), Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who helps stabilize him – keep him sane – after every failed attempt. Unfortunately, she can only do so much, and he begins to believe that he can save everyone on the train, even though the event is in the past. On the surface, this sounds like bad writing, but it’s actually a component of quantum theory (I do know a tiny bit) – multiple universes and coexisting states of being. What if every time he tries, he is really being sent to an alternate reality that continues on after his eight minutes? Again, if you can’t accept this, why are you watching this movie?
A major reason why I like these movies is that the filmmakers have to pay very close attention to detail. I hammer a lot of movies for poor continuity, so these movies are like an ice cream sundae for me. Every time Stevens goes back, the scene has to start the same and contain the same components. When Stevens begins, he finds himself having a conversation with Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), a lady who is friends with the man whose body Stevens occupies. She is always the same – clothes, accessories, dialogue, reactions, etc. Much like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Stevens is eventually able to predict everything that happens, freaking out his female companion. For this to work, the continuity guys have to make sure that these components don’t change or they will lose the effect they are shooting for and, ultimately, lose the audience. Even trickier still, they have to maintain this continuity while Stevens is changing the scene. While I’ve only seen the film once, I can’t think of any instance where they missed or forgot something. All of the scenes are well-thought out and meticulous and the audience is never thrown off by some obvious mistake. I don’t do it often, but kudos to the filmmakers for a job well done.
After that, you shouldn’t have any issues with this film. Between our four main characters, we get very solid performances from Monaghan and Wright and exceptional performances from Farmiga and Gyllenhaal. The supporting cast members do their jobs well, mostly by not distracting us from the story or the characters we care about. The story moves along at a very brisk pace and they don’t make the mistake of trying too hard to make “a great movie.” They simply do their jobs and don’t quit three quarters of the way through the film like a lot of others tend to do. Finally, their biggest accomplishment is never trying to convince you that the premise could actually happen. So just accept it or go back to watching Ricky Bobby.
Rating: Don’t ask for any of your money back. Don’t ask for any of your money back.