At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Source Code “2011”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action Thriller/ Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Russell Peters, Frédérick De Grandpré, Cas Anvar; Voice of: Scott Bakula/Runtime: 93 minutes

I think it can be safely said that the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2011’s Source Code, is one that functions like the most distinct blend of elements imaginable. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that feels like 2006’s Déjà Vu merged with 1993’s Groundhog Day with a smattering of both the classic Twilight Zone episode Judgement Night from the show’s first run back in the late 50s/ early 60s and also one of the basic plot hooks from the equally as iconic 80s sci-fi show Quantum Leap. Now it might not surprise you to learn that typically whenever a slice of cinema makes the choice to blend into one film, a bunch of different components from various other, fairly well-designed to say nothing of received by both the reviewing community as well as the everyday individual intellectual properties it usually is tragically not able to operate as well as it may like to otherwise. So imagine how happy I am movie goers to be able to tell you that this slice of cinema is actually pretty darn good. Oh make no mistake this slice of cinema is by no means a game changer for the genre of which it is a part a’la 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, or Alien. At the same time this is also not going to be one that critics would shower with golden trophies or anything of a similar ilk. With that being said however, there is no denying that this is a really brilliant and quite bold intellectual sci-fi thriller that manages to take its core concept, despite it being a blend of ideas from other distinct properties, and is then able to craft and sculpt it into an engaging and worth at the least a watch slice of cinema that will you both deep in thought whilst also on the edge of your seat. Sure this slice of cinema does seem to go a bit too quick for its own good and sure how this slice of cinema chooses to wrap everything up does give off the vibe of being less complex than you might think. Thankfully, this film has that covered in the form of the fact that you might think you know where this slice of cinema’s narrative is going to traverse with you, but you might not entirely be on the money about that. Suffice it to say that here is a slice of cinema that through wonderful work on both sides of the camera is able to rise over some its more run of the mill genre issues and components in order to construct a rather distinct slice of cinema that also proves to be one cohesive and enjoyable viewing experience that you most assuredly need to watch at the very least once.

The plot is as follows: Source Code gets underway as we see a military veteran by the name of Colter Stevens as he wakes up from a nap only to find himself hit with a particularly not so pleasant surprise. That being that instead of being with his squad on his latest tour in Afghanistan, he is on a speeding train that is swiftly making its way to the Windy City aka Chicago and his unit is nowhere to be found. Yet as surprised as he is to learn this, there is a bigger surprise waiting for him. That being that to everyone on board the train he is not Colter Stevens. Instead, he is a man by the name of Sean Fentress who is both a teacher and someone sitting next to him, a pretty woman by the name of Christina knows very well. Yet before Colter can really take a moment to process things, we see the entire train go up in a massive fireball as the result of an, unbeknownst to both us and our hero, bomb planted onboard by a mad bomber in an act of terrorism. However, in the aftermath of the bomb going off, we see our hero isn’t dead by the explosion. Instead, he actually wakes up in a confined and fairly dark space of sorts where, through a video monitor at his eye line, he is quickly brought up to speed on his mission. It seems he has been selected to engage in a fairly next-level counterterror program that is designed to let him go through the same eight minute period of time over and over. For this mission, we see our hero is to not only find the explosive device, but also the bomber who they believe is someone on the train. Yet as our hero engages in a race against time to find and thwart the bombing on the train, we also see that he starts to slowly but surely begin to figure out there is another puzzle afoot, through a steady stream of video calls with both his decent and understanding handler/ fellow military officer, one Colleen Goodwin, as well as a fairly noteworthy yet also quite stoic scientist by the name of Dr. Rutledge who also so happens to be the brains behind the tech that our hero is using in order to get to the bottom of the explosive mystery he is investigating, in the form of both how exactly he was chosen to participate in this mission and what exactly happened to him and his unit. Thus can our hero not only solve the mystery of what has happened to him to say nothing of where he is, but also stop the sinister bomber onboard the train before any further lives are lost due to the authorities believing the attack on the train was just a prelude for a bigger attack on the city of Chicago? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now, besides every single component that this slice of cinema has chosen to loan from other properties, I should also point out one other element that it has borrowed from another property. Namely that this slice of cinema might manage to remind a few of you out there of a certain episode from Star Trek where the Enterprise found itself being obliterated over and over again. Heck this slice of cinema even makes the choice to utilize some sci-fi lingo that you wouldn’t be surprised to hear uttered in Star Trek. At the same time however, this slice of cinema manages to be a lot more in the way of spine-tingling since it’s not only occurring in the present day, but also in how it is managing to incorporate into the mix threats that are legitimate nightmares facing the world nowadays. Sure the narrative might be a bit on the out there side of things, but it is incorporated into the present day world in such a manner that I feel that the fact the majority of movie goers out there can comprehend both the peril present as well as the situation occurring in this slice of cinema is the best positive it has going for it. It also doesn’t hurt that the science at the core of this film is ingeniously thought-out with any issues that may be present with it thankfully don’t by any means make the film any less enjoyable. Finally, I think praise must be given to this slice of cinema for keeping a vibe of mystery about it that is both sincere as well as detectable in equal measure. Not only in regards to the puzzle about the location of the bomb and the identity of the bomber, but also with respect to who our main character is to say nothing of where he is as well as what has happened to him respectively. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema might not be on par with Duncan Jones’ first cinematic endeavor, but it does manage to show that he is more just a mere one and done kind of director. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: it is obvious that this guy’s talent is in making sci-fi films that make you think. No Source Code doesn’t really strike the same chord that his first slice of cinema was able to, but at the very least it is an improvement on a lot of films of a similar ilk. Indeed if there is an area where I can find an issue with this film it would be not only the fact that the film’s foundation isn’t as cohesive as it should be, but that it moves a bit too quick for its own good at times. At the same time though, it must be kept in mind that this slice of cinema is equal parts thought-provoking sci-fi and swiftly-paced action.

All the other positives behind the camera aside, you should also know that this slice of cinema is also the blessed recipient of some pretty darn good performances in front of the camera as well. This starts with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role of Colter and he is, to no surprise, terrific. Indeed to be fair I have always liked Gyllenhaal as an actor so I guess you could say I might have a bias. Yet there is no denying that the man is versatile in every sense of the word which I guess you would have to be to go from Donnie Darko to this guy to Mysterio in the MCU and be able to make every single one of those characters distinct from the others whilst nailing every single performance in the process. Suffice it to say that Gyllenhaal definitely does a wonderful job here at playing the kind of ordinary and run of the mill guy that both Hitchcock and the original Twilight Zone show utilized brilliantly in their respective corners. Yet Gyllenhaal may prove to be a wonderful person to solve the core mystery at the heart of this film with, but he also proves to be someone who the more you learn about what’s really going on with him you do seriously empathize with to the point that you just want him to make it out of this ordeal on his terms instead of what everyone else is wanting for him. Indeed it’s a truly powerful performance and easily one of the more underrated efforts from the past decade by a man who many have long since viewed as a genuinely underrated talent himself. We also get a very delightful performance in this from Michelle Monaghan as Gyllenhaal’s love interest in this and to their credit the duo do manage to have a chemistry that does feel to be more organic in this than in most films like this. We also get wonderful work in this from Vera Farmiga as Colter’s handler Goodwin. Now you might think you know where this role is going and you might turn out to be right. Even with that in mind though, there is no denying that Farmiga brings both an authoritative presence and also a wonderful degree of humanity to a part that could have easily been fairly one note. Now I have an immense appreciation for Jeffrey Wright and I have always felt that he is the kind of dependable performer who will always bring his best to a role. For his role in this film as the weird researcher who is in charge of the program our main character has been reluctantly shanghai’d into participating in however, I don’t really feel that the film gives him as much to work with as the rest of the cast other than just “act coldly clinical, quirky, and like you know everything our main character deserves to know, but you only feel like sharing miniscule scraps of information at a time”. I mean don’t get me wrong I think Wright does the best job that he can. At the same time though, this slice of cinema is by no means making it easy on him in his pursuit of giving us the best possible performance that he can.

All in all and at the end of the day, there is no denying that 2011’s Source Code is by no means a flawless slice of cinema. At the same time however, it is also a slice of cinema that, even in the face of those flaws, manages to be a fairly riveting entry in the sci-fi action thriller genre that manages to be both a wonderful audience movie to say nothing of one that will actually see you put your little grey cells to work for about an hour and a half. Yet unlike film helmer Duncan Jones’s first slice of cinema, an underrated sci-fi slice of cinema from 2009 known as Moon which really did function a heck of a lot more on a psychological level more than anything else, this slice of cinema is one that makes the creative choice to operate more as a slice of entertaining sci-fi popcorn cinema. Even with that in mind however, I can still safely say that its helmer and his team have done a wonderful job at making this slice of cinema into a film that a vast array of movie goers can appreciate. By that I mean there is certainly a fair bit of edge of your seat action that will placate those of you out there who would like to view this slice of cinema in the vein of a film that you can just put your brain in the chair next to you for a little while. At the same time however, there is also a fair amount of both levels and nuance present on levels that are not just on the fringes, but also key and core to the overall narrative that a movie goer who wants a bit more substance will be compensated fairly well also. On top of all of that however is the fact that the cast in this, led by the always reliable Jake Gyllenhaal, does manage to do a wonderful job in not only making their characters feel like three-dimensional individuals, but in certain cases also do a terrific job of pushing the narrative forward courtesy of giving you more information to go on in order to help you, and the main character, in your attempts to see if you can figure out the puzzle at the heart of this slice of cinema. At any rate dear reader, there is no doubt in my mind that this slice of cinema proves to be a wonderful in its own right second film for its helmer and yes there are a few moments where it gives off the vibe that it is a smattering of several different slices of cinema all blended into one fairly cohesive film. With that said though, when the finished product is on the level of quality as this one turns out to be then honestly why quibble? Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Source Code “2011” a solid 3.5 out of 5.