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With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Cas Anvar, Russell Peters, Brent Skagford, Craig Thomas, Gordon Masten, Susan Bain, Paula Jean Hixson, Lincoln Ward, Kyle Gatehouse, Albert Kwan
Written by: Ben Ripley
Directed by: Duncan Jones
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language
Running Time: 93
Date: 03/11/2011

Source Code (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

In the Moment

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The year 2009 was supposed to have been some kind of breakthrough for sci-fi films, since there were a handful of popular and critical successes in that genre. These included Star Trek, District 9 and Avatar, none of which were really sci-fi movies, but simply war/battle movies in disguise, set on other planets or in outer space. The best sci-fi movie in that year of nouveau sci-fi went almost unnoticed: Duncan Jones' Moon. Unlike any of the others, it was true "science fiction," in that it told a story based on a fictitious, imaginary idea of science.

Jones -- who happens to be David Bowie's son -- made his feature debut with Moon, and he follows it up with the equally wonderful Source Code, also a true science fiction movie. With both films, Jones manages to focus on his story and characters, without even so much as throwing in a gratuitous chase scene.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars -- in his best role since Zodiac -- as Captain Colter Stevens. He begins the movie by suddenly waking up on a train. The last thing he remembers, he was flying a helicopter in the Middle East. What's even weirder is that the girl across the seat from him, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) seems to know him and keeps calling him "Sean."

Without giving too much else away, it turns out that Stevens is on a mission: he has been sent back in time, more or less, to this train and into the body of "Sean." His job is to locate a bomb on board, and hopefully the man who planted it. In doing so, he can prevent a much bigger bombing. He has only eight minutes to do so. If he fails, he must start over again at the same point in time. When he returns to the present time, a mysterious military agent called Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) is in charge of him, and an even more mysterious scientist (Jeffrey Wright) lurks about behind her.

So we get a kind of Groundhog Day scenario, in which Stevens knows more or less what is going to happen, and can learn from his mistakes each time. He also becomes increasingly infatuated with the charming Christina and hopes he can eventually rescue her from the bomb. I can't say much more about what happens, but suffice to say that Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley do not let their hero off the hook very easily. Happily, though, the filmmakers do seem to care about these characters, and -- like Sam Rockwell in Moon -- Jones gets terrific performances from all of his cast members.

Source Code is more of a popcorn sci-fi than a hardcore one; it's an adrenaline-fueled thriller, although it's one that never runs out of ideas. Jones keeps the pace tight and doles out the bodily thrills and brainy surprises in equal measure, never outstaying his welcome. Hardcore fans may balk a little at the film's ending, but I feel as if it is rightfully earned. If you ask me, 2011 is really the year of the new sci-fi film, given this and two other terrific "idea-based" movies, The Adjustment Bureau and Limitless. And it's only April!

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