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‘Source Code’ Starring Jake Gyllenhaal Is a Science Fiction Mind Bender With Intelligence To Spare

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Source Code is a multilayered experience. Its equal parts action film, part brain teaser, and time traveling drama.

However, despite thrilling source codemoments, the most surprising thing about Source Code is how strongly the film’s heart beats. Who knew science fiction could be so romantic?
   
Director Duncan Jones has followed up his little indie that could Moon with a far more accessible, yet thoughtful, motion picture ruminating issues such as life, death, love, and meaning.

The film plays out like a blending of Inception and Speed, with far more emphasis placed on the human element as opposed to the action pieces.
   
It’s hard to describe this incredibly textured film without giving something away, but the abridged version of the story goes something like this. Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens in a train; next to a woman he’s never heard of who addressed him as Shawn. Frantic, Stevens starts flailing around the train wondering how he got there. When he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and realizes the face is not his own, even more questions arise.
   
Soon after there is a massive explosion and Stevens wakes up in an entirely new environment, strapped to a chair in a dark chamber. The confined unit resembles the inside of a spacecraft. The contents are notably barren with the exception of a television screen. In a matter of moment, a military official named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) appears via television to brief the captain on what the hell is going on.
   
Goodwin explains that he is part of a program called the source code, a device designed to allow an individual to enter a stranger’s body during the last eight minutes of his life, connected through brain synapses.

In this case, that individual is Shaun Fenton; a teacher who was on a train earlier that morning that exploded after a bomb on board was detonated. His mission, she explains, is to find the identity of the bomber, who was speculated to have been aboard. Goodwin asserts that the passengers are now dead, and nothing can be done, but there is a chance to foil the bomber before he cataclysmically levels Chicago, which is expected to happen within hours real time.
   
Thus, Stevens is sent back into the source code repeatedly, desperately trying to locate the identity of the bomber. There, he establishes a connection with the beautiful Christina (Michelle Monoghan), who has a romantic interest in Shaun. Losing sight of his goal, Colter begins to attempt to save Christina’s life as well; truly believing that helping her escape the explosion will somehow seriously alter the events of the past. Nonetheless, it is reiterated the nothing can be done, and the timeframe for which another massive attack is to be launched grows smaller.
   
Source Code is a terrific thinking man’s blockbuster. The surface indicated a pure popcorn experience. However, Director Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley have much more in mind besides big explosions and special effects. As the Hitchcockian mystery unfolds, Duncan expertly weaves in metaphysical themes of life and death, as well as ruminations on regret and love. There’s also the science fiction portion which seamlessly blends into the deeper elements, providing enough twists and turns to make anyone’s brain hurt just a little.
   
The acting and character development is unusually strong for a film that basically repeats a scenario every eight minutes with similar dialogue. Gyllenhaal, as a frustrated military captain with a heart of gold, has never been better. He brings an extraordinary amount of charisma and everyday guy quality to the leading role.

Gyllenhaal’s balance of sensitivity and machismo carries the film easily, but his two female co-stars are remarkably strong as well. Monoghan embodies a perfect sense of warmth and empathy as the ill fated train passenger that he falls in love with. However, Farmiga is the most astonishing here, initially displaying an ice cold exterior that melts as the film unfolds, revealing a character with a great deal of sensitivity and humanity.  
   
Source Code runs a brisk 93 minutes, but the emotional and intellectual punch it supplies is anything but lacking. This is a science fiction film with mass appeal and proof that a big blockbuster film doesn’t need to rely only on action and pyrotechnics. Source Code is thrilling, puzzling, romantic and moving. This is the science fiction movie to beat in 2011.   

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Photo pics courtesy of Summit