Since 2004 every year Hollywood publishes “the Black List”, which lists the top unproduced screenplays as voted on by studio and production executives. In 2007, a script written by Ben Ripley about a time traveling Army pilot made the list but collected dust for years until finally three years later it was green lit.
Duncan Jones, the son of MR. DAVID BOWIE, was hired to direct the film. Riding a wave of success off his indie smash Moon, he was the personal choice of Ripley to bring his story to life. The movie was another smash, made for $30 million dollars and making almost five times that back. Even more impressive is it succeeded despite coming out a month after the Adjustment Bureau, as it was able to overcome the “dueling movie fatigue” that often happens to the film that comes out second.
Will this turn out to be as good as the Adjustment Bureau was? Or will it end up being a movie that looks like it was written by the guy who wrote the third and fourth Species movies? Good God I hope not! Grab some Dunkin' Donuts, take a seat on the train, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Source Code!
The film begins with lots of scenery porn of Chicago, as we follow a train as it goes along the tracks. Jake Gyllenhaal, whose last name is such a nightmare to type I'm just going to call him by his character name Colter, wakes up on the train. Sitting across from him is... ah geez, Michelle Monaghan, who continues our theme of last names I don't ever want to type again. Her name is Christina. Colter is looking around the train very confused, Christina asking him what's wrong. The movie does a quick cut montage of events we're going to see over and over again:
-a man opening a pop can-a woman spilling coffee on Colter's shoe
-a Middle Eastern man heading to the bathroom
-an older man complaining about being late
-the conductor asking to punch Colter's ticket
-a reality TV comic also complaining about the train being late
Christina is calling him Sean, but he tells her his name is Captain Colter Stevens, who flies helicopters for the army in Afghanistan. The train makes its next stop at Glenbrook Station, Colter going out to get some fresh air. Along the way he passes a young man in flannel who finds a dropped wallet and hands it to his owner who is just exiting the train. Colter asks flannel man where he is, learning they're in Chicago.
Colter sits back down with Christina, catching a glimpse of his reflection in the window and realizing it's a completely different man. He goes into the bathroom to look in the mirror, and finds the different face staring at him. This film loses SO MANY POINTS for Colter not quipping “Oh boy!”. He looks at his wallet, which confirms his name IS Sean. Christina is waiting outside for him, concerned about his freakish behaviour. She tells him everything is going to be okay as the train suddenly explodes.
We get a strange transition shot of a giant mirrored blob as Colter wakes up again, this time in a tiny dark room where he's upside down and strapped into a harness. A disembodied female voice is calling him by his real name, asking for a report on what he saw. He tells her he's dizzy so she says she'll adjust his rotation, which puts him right side up.
A monitor lights up, as we see Vera Farmiga in a military uniform looking at him. He asks who she is, but she replies he already knows that information. She does a brief memory exercise with him that has him recite some information back to her which jogs his memory and he remembers her name is Goodwin. We also see Jeffrey Wright in the background of her monitor, typing something on a keyboard and walking away.
Colter tells Goodwin he needs to talk to his father, but she wants to know who bombed the train. He tells her he has no idea, so she sends him back in time again to find out. She says he'll have eight minutes to find the bomb, same as last time. Back on the train, events happens in a slightly different order for some reason with some prominent product placement for Dunkin' Donuts.
Colter is much more aware this time, as he believes this entire thing is a simulation of some sort. Hes very short with Christina and ignores her while he tries to find the bomb. He recalls the explosion happened from behind him, so he goes into the bathroom to search. He finds the bomb in a vent in the ceiling, with a cell phone attached to it. Not knowing what to do, he decides to leave it alone. Exiting the bathroom, he looks around at everyone on their phones and laptops and decides to pretend to be transit security to get then to shut their devices off. This does not work as the train explodes once again.
Another transition shot of the metallic blob (with a brief shot of Christina in it), takes Colter back to the dark room, which now has hydraulic fluid leaking all over the floor. Goodwin tells him not to worry about it, telling him he needs to focus on his mission. He ignores her, saying his mission is in Afghanistan. When he mentions he flew two missions just yesterday, she informs him he's been with them for two months.
Colter asks who is behind the simulation, Goodwin telling him it is NOT a simulation and lives are at stake. With Wright's permission, Goodwin tells him the details of the mission. At 7:48 this morning a bomb exploded on a train that killed everyone on board, the very train Colter has been on. A man named Sean Fentress died on the train, and is the same man Colter has been sent back into. Goodwin asks again about the bomb, Colter telling her about the cell phone detonator. She sends him back again, where this time the coffee spills on Christina's shoe. Colter is much nicer to her this time as he now knows she's real, and hey, she does happen to be quite beautiful.
As Sean and Christina were both regular commuters on the train, Colter uses her to get some information on the train's passengers to help weed out his list of suspects. As the train stops at Glenbrook Station, he asks her to come take a walk with him. She says he's freaking her out, to which he responds by... kissing her? Yeah, don't- don't do this is real life. Unless you're Jake Gyllenhaal. Actually not even if you're Jake Gyllenhaal.
She kisses him back though, as she must have had a thing for Sean. She follows him outside, waiting on a bench while he follows the Middle Eastern man into the train station bathroom. The man rightfully gets disturbed by Colter stalking him, so he goes back outside. Colter confronts him, beating him up and searching his briefcase for a phone. This is pointless as the train explodes soon after, Colter realizing the man isn't the bomber. The man takes this distraction to kick him, which knocks him onto the train tracks where he gets splattered by a train.
He wakes up back in the dark room, which is now covered in frost and losing power. The monitor is blank, as we see Goodwin on the other side trying to reach him. Colter is finally able to undo his harness, finding an electrical panel and restoring power to the room.
The monitor comes back on and we find Wright looking back at him. Colter tells him the capsule lost power, which Wright seems rather amused by. Goodwin sits back down as Colter tells the both of them he was able to save Christina, which Goodwin tells him is a waste of time. Wright says Christina did survive, but only in the source code. Colter asks what that is, Wright replying it's quantum mechanics and parabolic calculus, far too complicated to explain. Ahh quantum mechanics, the preferred hand wave of science fiction writers everywhere.
Wright dumbs it down for us by explaining when a light bulb goes off you see the afterglow of it for awhile, which is exactly how the human brain functions after death. It has a short term memory track that is eight minutes long, which they can plug into the source code to send someone back in time for that amount.
Sean's brainwaves were the most similar to Colter's, which is why he keeps getting sent back into him. Colter asks what happens after the eight minutes, but Wright says nothing as he ceases to exist after Sean's time is up. And since we're going all out on the science fiction here, Wright tells us the source code isn't time travel but instead is “time reassignment” that gives them access to a parallel reality.
Jake doesn't really understand any of this, but that's fine because I'm not sure I do either yet. He brings up again how he saved Christina, but Goodwin tells him she died in the explosion that morning. Colter goes to argue but Goodwin stresses they have to hurry as a second attack on Chicago is imminent. They have information downtown Chicago is the next target, and a dirty bomb is going to be used. Wright, who finally gets named as Dr. Rutledge, says they are evacuating the area but it's impossible to get everyone clear in time.
Goodwin tells Colter if he can find the bomber they can prevent the attack, but he has to hurry because on their side the clocks only move in one direction. She also tells him the location of a gun on the train, ordering him to get it and use whatever force is necessary to complete his mission. This attempt goes very poorly, as he gets tasered and handcuffed by security while trying to get the gun. He asks Christina to tell him everything is going to be okay, which she does just as the train explodes.
This go around in the dark room, Colter notices Goodwin's jacket has an Air Force patch sewn onto it with the letters CAOC-N on the bottom. As he tries to figure out what they stand for, he gets sent back to the train.
We get the usual montage as Jake keeps working on what CAOC-N means, drawing the logo on a napkin to help him focus. Christina asks him what he's doing, prompting him to ask her to look up Captain Colter Stevens on her smartphone. While she does this he searches the bag of another passenger, but again finds nothing. He notices a woman nearby has a military bag, so he asks her what the logo means. She tells it's the logo of the Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas, Colter borrowing her phone to call Dr. Rutledge there.
As he waits to get through to Rutledge, Christina comes up to him and tells him Captain Stevens is dead, having been killed in action two months ago. As she tells him the details, we see the source code effect start shimmering on her face. This must mean Colter isn't getting a good sync with the Animus.
He also starts hearing Lucy's- I mean Goodwin's voice talking to him. He passes out, having a quick cut flashback of getting shot down in Afghanistan and getting brought to the source code project. He wakes up back in the room, asking if he's dead. Goodwin and Rutledge both look upset he's discovered this. Goodwin tells him part of his brain is still active, which doesn't make sense to him as he can still see his body. She tells him they're all manifestations of his mind, his way to try to make sense of all this. He realizes the capsule he's in is also a manifestation of his mind, as it starts growing and changing shape.
Rutledge gets on the camera and reiterates how important it is he find the bomber. Colter tells him how he tried calling him, but Rutledge explains he never would have gotten it because it's a different reality. Colter, beyond pissed off now, yells this can't be legal. Rutledge informs him it's been sanctioned by the military court and that many soldiers would find the opportunity to keep serving their country after death an honour.
Colter counters by saying all the soldiers he knows would say one death is service enough. Rutledge compromises, saying if Colter can finish his mission he'll let him die. We get a montage of Colter repeatedly failing and getting blown up. He's starting to give up when Rutledge playing him an audio recording of his father speaking at his funeral and BLOODY HELL IT'S SCOTT BAKULA! Well, that sure makes up for the missed Quantum Leap joke earlier!
The recording of Mr. Stevens talking about a falling out they had and feeling very bad about it motivates Colter to go back again. He gets the gun and goes for the bomb, this time unplugging the phone and calling back the last number of its call history. He tracks the ringing phone to the man who dropped his wallet earlier, following him out of the train. Colter watches as he drops the wallet on the next train car down, the soldier retrieving it and finding the man's name is Derek Frost. As he's looking at the wallet the train doors close while Derek starts getting away. Colter pulls the emergency door release and jumps out of the train in the worst CGI shot this side of the Matrix Reloaded.
He does not land gracefully, getting very torn up as he rolls along the concrete. Christina sees him jump out and yells for the train to be stopped. Derek heads for a white van, Colter slowly getting to his feet and pursuing him. Making a note of the van's license plate, he pulls the gun on the young man. Colter reveals he knows about the wallet and how Derek planted it on the train so everyone would think he died in the crash.
Things start getting dumb here as Derek opens the van and shows Colter the bomb inside, Colter making no effort to stop him. At least shoot the guy in the legs or something! Sure enough, Christina comes up to distract Colter, Derek pulling his own gun out and shooting him twice in the chest. Christina starts running but Derek... shoots her through the van door to kill her? Is that possible? He has a pretty big gun but wouldn't the metal walls mess up the bullet's trajectory? Colter, the life draining out of him, asks Derek why. I'd be lying if I said the answer wasn't a tad disappointing:
“The world is hell. We have a chance to start over in the rubble, but first there has to be rubble.”
Hmm. I suppose it's supposed to be more scary the bomber is just an Everyday Average Joe, but the fact this guy has been on screen a grand total of maybe ten seconds means we haven't got to know him in the SLIGHTEST so this just comes off very anticlimactic. Especially when Gyllenhaal has done such a great job of finding the bomber feel so important and vital.
Derek hops into his van and drives off, as we get a shot showing the bomb has a SECOND cell phone on it that gets an incoming call which blows up the train again. Colter succumbs to his wounds and returns to the dark room. He gives everyone the bomber's name and license plate number, telling Rutledge he still wants to die but first wants to go back and save everyone on the train. Rutledge again tries to tell them that's not how the source code works, but Colter still wants to try anyway.
On the news we see a SWAT team capture Derek, Goodwin congratulating Colter on completing his mission. He implores her to send him back as he know Rutledge isn't going to. The camera switches to Goodwin's view, as we see Colter actually hasn't been talking to them but just projecting words on a computer screen. We also get a brief glimpse of a metal pod in the next room that must contain his body.
Goodwin agonizes over this, but finally decides to send him back. She promises him at the end of the source code she'll terminate his life support. She tells him it was an honour to serve with him, thanking him for his service as she presses the button. Colter asks Christina out for coffee and she agrees, saying she's been waiting weeks for him to ask her. He tells her he'll be back in a couple of minutes, he has to go save the world first. Gyllenhaal says this so charismatically, NO ONE could doubt the truth of his words.
He takes both phones off the bomb, pickpocketing a pair of handcuffs off one of the conductors on the way to find Derek. Back in Rutledge's office the doctor is on a call detailing his plan to have at least eight more source code projects running by the end of the year. He instructs Goodwin to memory wipe Colter so they can use him again, overruling her when she brings up the deal he made with the soldier.
“He just saved millions of lives today, how many other disasters might he avert down the line?”
Colter handcuffs Derek to a railing, using one of the phones to call the authorities and tell then all about the bombs. He then sends a text to the source code version of Goodwin, while the actual Goodwin locks herself in the room with Colter's body. Colter then calls his father, telling him his name is Sean and he served with his son. Scott Bakula says “oh boy”. GREATEST MOVIE EVER!
This movie SO “gets it”. Colter tells Mr. Stevens how much his son wanted to say he was sorry for their falling out, Stevens saying his wishes he could have told him that he loves him. Colter says he knows it and wishes him well. He goes to sit back down with Christina as Rutledge is altered Goodwin is in the pod room, gathering security to oust her.
Colter bets the comedian on the train he can't make everyone laugh, as he and Christina enjoy the show. Amidst the laughter, he asks her what she'd do if she had less than a minute to live. She replies she'd make those second count, he answers he'd kiss her and then does so. The eight minutes are up as Goodwin turns off his life support, which freezes everyone on the train. The security guards enter the room to arrest her, as we get a horrifying glimpse of the remains of Colter.
However, weren't not quite done yet as we go back to the train where time unfreezes and life goes on. Colter and Christina go for a walk to the Cloud Gate of Chicago, which was the metallic blob we kept getting glimpses of the entire movie. I had no idea what this was but I imagine a lot of people would have, so this was a very cool reveal for me.
Colter looks at the giant sculpture as it hits him what he was seeing the entire time, asking Christina if she believes in fate. She asks him what he wants to do today, he tells her he wants to stay there for awhile as it feels like exactly where they're supposed to be.
In the same world, Goodwin arrives for work and gets the text Colter sent her. It starts off with a line from the memory jogging exercises, then goes on to tell her all about what just happened to him. He asks when they finally have a crisis that requires them to use their version of Colter that she help him and tell him everything's going to be okay. The film ends on a shot of her looking at Colter in the pod as it cuts to black.
Cue the credits.
Even if this movie had sucked, I still would have liked it as I'm predispositioned to love any story with a time travel loop repeating over and over again. However, in an actual plot twist worthy of Shakespeare, this movie was COMPLETELY AWESOME!
I'm also quite biased towards this movie as Jake Gyllenhaal was in it, as he's one of my favourite actors ever. He was just phenomenal here, as he nailed what his character was supposed to be. Charismatic and charming when needed, he also brought the urgency and desperation to the story that was needed when it was needed. He made you CARE, which I know I keep talking about in these reviews but it is such a rarity in films nowadays. So many heroes are heroes because we're TOLD they're the good guy or we're supposed to cheer for them because their loved ones were murdered and that's the only reason we need.
I also want to single out Vera Farmiga for her excellent performance here, as she gave so much depth and personality to a character who basically sat in front of a computer screen the entire movie and typed stuff on a keyboard. She was the true co-star of this movie and had a far better chemistry with Jake than his on-screen co-star Michelle. Not that Michelle was bad as everyone gave a good performance here, but she was definitely outshone by Vera.
Honestly, it'd take a complete joyless asshole who is so miserable he can only pick apart things rather than enjoy them to find anything wrong with this movie, so here I go. Once again we have a sci-fi movie whose premise doesn't quite work when you stop to think about it for a second.
The Source Code is a magic spell that can send a person back in time eight minutes via a recreation of the past based off the memories of a person who experienced it. Don't be fooled by all that “quantum mechanics and parabolic calculus” nonsense, it's magic. Now this is slick, as it's not ACTUAL time travel and thus is immune from all the plot holes time travel usually causes in stories like this.
It even escapes the plot hole I thought I spotted midway through of “how could Colter possibly be doing stuff that Sean never did and thus wouldn't have existed in his memories?” as explaining this was actually an alternate reality Colter was traveling back into, so props there. So far, so good. But this does bring us to Sean. Remember him? The school teacher that was the most compatible person in the source code that got body-jacked by Colter? What happened to him? Did his mind die when Colter took over his body, or is he trapped in his own body ala What's-Her-Ass in Stephenie Meyer's The Host?
And where does Colter go from here now? Does he just try to live Sean's life despite having none of his memories? He won't know any of Sean's family or friends, everyone will think he's lost his damn mind! ...which he literally has, I suppose. Fairly sinister ending here, really.
Rutledge, who was supposedly one of the smartest men in the world, handled this whole thing like a dunce. Why didn't he tell Colter what was going on from the beginning? He wasted SO MUCH time not letting him know about the bomb, which certainly made the story more interesting but from a common sense aspect made no sense at all. It's pretty obvious Rutledge didn't give a damn about Colter here and saw him more as a tool to use in his plan, so why not just be upfront with him? Colter responded quite well when he learned he was trying to save two million people, he should have been told this much earlier and try to speed us the whole “save Chicago” thing.
Again, though, this is nothing but nitpicking. Hell, it's a major part of the reason people like me love science fiction so much: the challenge of dissecting minutiae like this. Just like the Adjustment Bureau this was an extremely enjoyable movie that I can recommend to ANYONE, and also makes history as I've reviewed two great movies in a row!
On to the Dueling Movies Final Rundown:
1. What Did The Movies Look Like They Were About?
A man battles an inevitable fate to be with the woman he loves
2. What Were The Movies Actually About?
-In the Adjustment Bureau, David battles the forces of Heaven with the help of a sympathetic angel to overcome his fate and be with the woman he loves.
-In Source Code, Colter battles the forces of time with the help of a sympathetic soldier to overcome his fate and be with the woman he is falling for.
3. Which Movie Had The Better Protagonist?
Tough one here. David and Colter were both extremely likeable heroes you both cared for, but I'm giving this one to Source Code because Gyllenhaal's performance was one for the ages.
4. Which Movie Had The Better Love Interest?
The Adjustment Bureau, hands down. Elise was essentially a stereotype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she did have enough of her own interests to make her an actual character. Source Code's Christina really didn't do much besides sit in a chair and smile.
5. Which Movie Had The Better Antagonist?
The Adjustment Bureau wins this one too, as you had the dual threat of Thompson and Richardson creating very solid opposition for David. Source Code didn't have a solid antagonist at all, as Derek was so minor in the story to the point Rutledge was more of a bad guy than he was.
6. Which Movie Had The Better Story?
Both had some fair flaws, but Source Code wins out because its flaws only really pop up with the ending whereas in the Adjustment Bureau you have the entire plot being driven by a device that just doesn't work at all.
7. Which Movie Wins?
It's somewhat close because both truly are great movies, but Source Code wins out overall because it just did everything better. By far one of the best movies I've seen of last decade, my only regret is taking this long to see it.
Duncan Jones is truly a superstar director in the making, though I would NOT want to be in his footsteps for what film he's attempting next: a World of Warcraft movie. YIKES.