Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Source Code

Duncan Jones’ follow-up to his impressive directorial debut Moon (2009) is another claustrophobic sci-fi with an air of mystery. Source Code throws us right into the action without any explanation, as we see Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Captain Colter Stevens wake up on a train with no idea how he got there. Stevens was a U.S. helicopter pilot in Afghanistan and can’t remember what has happened to him since his time in the warzone. On the train, he sees his reflection and doesn’t recognise the man staring back at him, a woman sitting opposite him calls him Sean, and after eight minutes there is a huge explosion.

The next thing he knows, he is strapped inside a dark and confined capsule.  A military official on a video screen tells him that he needs to find out who bombed the train in order to avert an even larger catastrophe. The commuter train that he found himself on was bound for downtown Chicago when it exploded, killing more than 100 people on board. Using new technology called the Source Code, a suitable candidate can go back into a person’s final eight minutes before their death and can interact with their environment to find out what happened. Captain Stevens has been sent back into Sean Fentress’ last moments on the train. He is told to look for clues and try to identify the bomber, and is sent back into the Source Code for a number of times to experience the same eight minutes over and over.

Similar events occur each time: a woman spills her coffee on his shoe, the conductor asks for his ticket to stamp, a man with motion sickness goes to the bathroom, another man leaves his wallet on his seat and a young guy catches up with him to return it. Stevens’ actions affect what happens but after eight minutes he always goes back to the small capsule (referred to as ‘beleaguered castle’) and the Source Code resets when he next goes in.

The Source Code, developed by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) for the military, is described as a revolutionary and powerful weapon against terror. They hope to prevent a second attack imminent in downtown Chicago. People are trying to evacuate the city and the authorities are frantically trying to find out who the bomber is so they can stop them before it’s too late. Stevens is told that reality can’t be altered from within the Source Code because it’s just a memory of what has happened in the past. It wasn’t designed to alter the past, it was designed to affect the future. However, after Stevens returns over and over again, he wants to stop the explosion and save the people on the train and believes he can do so.

Source Code is a science fiction film that tells a very human story. Like Moon, it follows a sympathetic protagonist trapped by his isolation and his surroundings. It deals with issues of identity and mortality. Some of the highlights come from Stevens’ interactions with the other train passengers, as he tries to find out which one of them planted the bomb. These create moments of tension and mystery as we see the consequences of his actions. The writer, Ben Ripley, developed Source Code from an original idea and it marks his first theatrically released project. The script focuses on character rather than action-packed thrills or fights and it definitely leaves you with lots to ponder.

The film is slightly constricted by the repetitive nature of the plot. It benefits from the moments when Stevens deviates from the norm and from the change of location when the action switches from beleaguered castle to the military base and to the train. The final moments of the film feel like a forced Hollywood ending as it goes against some of the rules laid down by the scientists in the film. However, it does raise interesting questions about the technology and whether they failed to fully realise what it was capable of.

Source Code has some strong performances, from leading man Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan as the lady on the train he slowly finds himself falling for, and Vera Farmiga as the military official who empathises with his plight. The film also has a good screenplay and a talented director with lots of future potential who can deliver a dramatic and entertaining experience. 

[DVD screener provided by flickfeast. Review originally posted here]


Catch up on Jake Gyllenhaal’s back catalogue at, where you can now watch movies online as well as renting blu-rays, DVDs and games.


  1. I really liked this film. It was a sci-fi action movie with deeper connotations that keep you thinking after the credits roll. There aren't really enough thought provoking movies on the big screen nowadays so this was a breath of fresh air for me. Granted it wasn't as good as Moon in my opinion (which I still think is one of the strongest directoral debuts I've seen for ages!) but it was still solid.

    Great review x

  2. It's funny, watching 'Moon', it was obvious that the director was talented, but overall that film left me cold. It was a case where I respected the work on screen more than I genuinely liked it.

    With 'Source Code', Duncan Jones crafts a really fun little movie with the same 'high concept' sense of his debut, but the ending feels pretty ridiculous.

    In neither case do I think there is a perfect film, but I just know there is a great film waiting to be made by Jones.

  3. I did like the film until the last 5 minutes. I didn't think it was built up enough to have a happy happy joy joy moment like that. If they would have built it up more, like when Colter tried calling Goodwin actually having her answer and remember his call after the 8 minutes was up or something. I felt like the movie built you up and up with suspense, then dropped you on your head when you try to understand what just happened. I still liked the movie though, it wasn't worth going to the theater to watch, but it was a great Blu-ray to rent using my blockbuster movie pass. The picture is outstanding, and I think I could see all of Jake Gyllenhaal's pores on his face at the opening scene. At least I am getting my $10 a month out of the movie pass, but the wife keeps choosing all the movies. I snuck this one in after a coworker at DISH told me to give a chance, I didn't have high hopes at all reading most of the reviews when it came out.


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