Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

SXSW REVIEW | Duncan Jones' "Source Code" Messes With Your Head and Your Heart

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire March 12, 2011 at 3:31AM

Drawing on time-shifting concepts reminiscent of "Groundhog Day" and "Run Lola Run," Duncan Jones' "Source Code" inhabits the spirit of old-school sci-fi while effectively providing a measure of pathos. As he did in his prior film, "Moon," "Source Code" showcases Jones' ability to provide ample entertainment value with sharply drawn characters in a minimalist setting.
1

Drawing on time-shifting concepts reminiscent of "Groundhog Day" and "Run Lola Run," Duncan Jones' "Source Code" inhabits the spirit of old-school sci-fi while effectively providing a measure of pathos. As he did in his prior film, "Moon," "Source Code" showcases Jones' ability to provide ample entertainment value with sharply drawn characters in a minimalist setting.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Capt. Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot originally stationed in Afghanistan who abruptly finds himself on a train just before it blows sky high. Traumatized, he awakes in a shadowy chamber. On a screen in front of him, commanding officer Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) interrogates the soldier about his experience, which seems to be a fabricated event that he must endure in a parallel reality.

And then, with the click of a button, Stevens' controllers hurl him back into the Chicago-bound train eight minutes before an undiscovered bomb kills everyone on board. He soon learns that he is returning to the scene of the crime to discover the bomb (which he does rather quickly) and the culprit (a greater challenge). Stuck in a dangerous loop, his detective skills quickly take root. Since he must also divine the conditions of the experiment thrust upon him, Stevens (and the audience) is in the center of an existential brain teaser.

Still, "Source Code" never turns into the fast-paced thriller that the plot might suggest. The movie maintains a real-time feel throughout its 93 minutes, despite returning to the train at least a half-dozen times. Ben Ripley's screenplay (cited on the 2007 Blacklist) focuses on a small cast of personalities and explores how the ticking clock impacts their behavior.

As Stevens returns to the ill-fated train, he begins to fall for the soul-searching girl (Michelle Monoghan) sitting across the aisle and second-guesses the motives of the tight-lipped military overlords who keep sending him back. With Stevens' conundrum as the movie's central perspective, we take the head trip with him. Since he must decipher developments with only the information at his disposal, he's always an unreliable narrator, allowing for the possibility of a game-changing twist at any given moment.

In between his lethal outings on the train, Stevens finds himself in a surreal enclosure that mirrors his confused state of mind. The compact, almost theatrical set creates a remarkable sense of confinement, much like last year's coffin-set "Buried." In both cases, a man stuck in a solitary environment and speaking to voices from afar creates constant tension.

Hardly a big-budget action spectacle (the CGI looks good enough, but not top-of-the-line), "Source Code" is a lower-key younger brother to "Inception." It has the complex infrastructure of top-tier science fiction cinema while toying with blockbuster formula. Trumpets blare, things explode, a villain is out to destroy the world -- but everything relies on Gyllenhaal's successful embodiment of a man who must come to grips with his own mortality and learn to make every second count.

Sounds cheesy, but intellect underlines the sincerity. Where "Inception" had plenty of smarts but little heart, "Source Code" has both, delivering a life-affirming message while playing it cool. Screenwriter Ripley occasionally overindulges in the ramifications of the imaginary technology ("We finally have a powerful weapon in the war on terror," enthuses the crazed head scientist played by Jeffrey Wright), but the pulpy content adds to the film's oddball allure.

Like "Moon," where Sam Rockwell spent most of the time talking to himself within a lunar enclosure, the cumulative dramatic effect of "Source Code" relies on an isolated character learning to escape the infrastructure that holds him down. The film's otherworldly premise does push a high concept past its breaking point, but the emotional core is grounded in universal themes and allows the film to geek out with compassion to spare. The appeal of "Source Code" requires a willingness to decipher it while enjoying the ride.

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Probably too weird for mainstream audiences and too sentimental for positive critical consensus, "Source Code" should still find enough appreciative audiences to play decently at the box office for a week or so, with an inevitably strong DVD reception to follow.

criticWIRE grade: A-

This article is related to: Reviews, Source Code






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More