Source Code (2011)

Source Code, Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal, Copyright Summit Entertainment

It’s not time travel, it’s time reassignment.

Source Code turns out to be a solid sci-fi thriller with a nice twist and a rather sobby Hollywood ending.

Duncan Jones’ second take on a feature film, after the captivating Moon in 2009. With Source Code he stays in the realms of science fiction, but takes on a more of a mainstream approach to his storytelling and with the themes that become lit in this action-packed 93 minutes.

Jake Gyllenhaal takes on the role of Captain Colter Stevens an American soldier who’s been moved from his mission in Afganistan to take part in an experimental mission Source Code. Source Code’s ment to send the consciousness of a trained soldier into the last moments of a person’s life, in this case the mind of Sean, a casualty in a train bombing in Chicago. The idea behind the source code is the permanent trace the last electric impluses and the last 8 minutes of a person’s mind are captured and can thereby be relived. Stevens’ mission in this 8 minutes is to identify the bomber on the train to prevent an even larger bomb-threat in Central Chicago.


Colter has to profile the people on the train from Sean’s point of view trying to ‘save the world’ whilst at the same time falling for the girl sitting opposite him, Christina (played by Michelle Monaghan). When he does succeed in his mission, Colter still feels the need to save everyone on the train. Twists and romance ensue.

The new rise and popularity of sci-fi writing both in television (JJ Abrams’ Lost and Fringe, the Battlestar Galagtica reboot, the Stargate’s) and film have brought great fortune to sci-fi buffs everywhere; what I find especially enjoyable is the founding of the science in actual reality, using a certain theory in order to alter the reality we are in now without seeming too ludicrous. Source Code leaves certain plot holes and in my view doesn’t explain enough; maybe I’m asking too much from a 1½ hour movie. Getting used to the season and hour-long storty telling of sci-fi (that still leaves obvious gaps) I might be asking too much from Source Code. In all fairness, it’s very entertaining, it’s surprising and it works for different audiences without compromising too much. And for me anything that even remotely touches on the concept of parallel universes is a hit.

The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Monaghan is undeniable and breathes life to rather unremarkable characters. Colter Stevens is a stereotype of an American fighter: dedicated, patriotic and troubled with daddy issues. The 8-minute timeframe that Stevens has to deal with lays out an interesting (and extensively explored) setting for the characters to interact; we learn the relationships and dynamic within the small space carefully, and the repeated scene is seen from mutliple perspectives. This leaves room for a bonding between Gyllenhaal and Monaghan, truly the higlight of the show character-wise.

Often films come with baggage; the one thing that bothered me here, is the ending. Do we really need a meta-exploration of ‘fate’ and how everything and all things are meant to happen for a reason, in this case meeting a woman (the most common reason why anything happens or is done according to Hollywood). The fact is that often these types of preachy after-thoughts leave a bitter taste in your mouth after the film’s finished. A forced happy ending is often something that underestimates the audience, satisfying only a part of the audience, in this case the ones craving romance. The fact is that in order to get this happy ending, the science is completely compromised, but not to an extent that would bother the average moviegoer.

All in all, Source Code finishes what it starts; it entertains without being too gimmicky or predictable, the acting is solid (Gyllenhaal has proven to be a respectable lead and Vera Farmiga as Stevens’ commanding officer could charm the pants of anyone. Actually entertaining thrillers that don’t have a self-evident ending are hard to come by, but 2011 has offered us two solid ones already, this and Limitless both worthy at least a rental.

Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal © 2010 Vendome Pictures

Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal Copyright Summit Entertainment

7.5 / 10

You will like Source Code if…

– you enjoy science-fiction, action and thrill.
– you’re in desperate need for a Strangers on a Train throwback.
– you thought one of the best parts of The Departed was Vera Farmiga.
– you want to see the work of a future directing genius.

In theatres in the UK and US now, Finland on the 13th of May.

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14 responses to “Source Code (2011)

  1. I’ve heard of this movie only recently, and I didn’t even watch the trailer. However, the IMDb rating surprised me, as usually I believe those ratings. I’m glad that there some good action sci-fi pictures this year, like this one and Limitless.

    • Yeah I definitely didn’t see the high reviews coming, IMDB is holding a steady 8. I gave it a 7.5 and that’s in my view a bit of an overstatement, a tribute to my love of parallel universe stories. It could have something to do with the timing also; whenever there’s nothing similar that’s come out in a while and wowed (or even remotely surprised) the audiences, the film feels fresher.

  2. A well-paced and structured sci-fi thriller that’s as complex as it is clear-headed. Also, Gyllenhaal shows again why exactly he really is one of the better leading men out there, and proves he still has that charm. Good review, check out mine when you can!

    • Yeah, sure, but I guess that’s very subjective. I prefer the traditional Greek tragedy where everything doesn’t turn out perfect for everyone and there’s no moral to the story; here it’s somewhat the opposite. I think it’s ridiculous to try and work out all lose ends for a 1,5h film in the last 5mins but each to their own. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. I wasn’t impressed w/ the trailer even though I always enjoy a good sci-fi. But the reviews I’ve been reading, including yours, are quite persuasive. I’ll definitely catch this one when it arrives on Netflix.

    • You should, I never thought it would be anything but mediocre, but turns out to be very solid! I’m crediting this mostly on Jones and Gyllenhaal. (Not the writing though …)

  4. Definitely want to check this out soon, thus not going to read the review and end up spoiling anything. It’s definitely been getting some good reviews which I’m glad about. I love a good thriller. I really enjoy Gyllenhaal as an actor too. Hopefully I’ll get to see this soon.

    • I tried to leave the “twist” out of this one, to avoid major spoilage. Im really excited about Duncan Jones as a director, I hope he continues his streak.

  5. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this one. When it first came out, there were more positive reviews than negative ones. Now, it seems to be half and half. I’m still undecided if I’m going to see this one, thanks for sharing your input! :)

  6. I think the nature of the ending speaks to Jones’ proclivities as a filmmaker, though. He’s an optimist at the end of things, even if he spends his movies seeing the bleaker side of his character’s stories. At the very least, Source Code isn’t totally bereft of tragedy in its climax; sure, alternate reality Colter/Sean just got another shot at being alive and with a woman he’s clearly compatible with, which is pretty great all around, but primary reality Colter is dead, dead, dead, and Goodwin is going to be taken in for prosecution by the MPs while Rutledge rants and raves at her (arguably justly so). Source Code ends on a positive note, but the third act isn’t without its darkness.

    I really dug this one. Best of the year for me so far (so far), and I think a strong continuation of the themes Jones explored in Moon but with a glossier sheen and a bent toward crowd-pleasing entertainment. Like Nolan with Inception, Jones finds a balance between high-concept and idea-based science fiction exploration and pleasing the mainstream with a taut and expertly-crafted thriller, which is no small feat.

    • Fair enough, it can be seen as such (Jones’ optimistic nature), but coming from a different perspective it does leave a taste of wanting to please the audience rather than genuinely believing in that happy ending. Often audiences don’t respond well to the hero not getting his way, what he deserves and in the case of Source Code I saw the fate of Gyllenhaal’s character to be in accordance to that need of the crowd.

      I did too, and for me as well! Obviously if you’re handed out more money more actors more production possibilities, the end result will be a tad more shiny, but in Jones’ case the idea isn’t compromised, just like you said.

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