Jake Gyllenhaal’s out-of-body experience
Source Code ★★★Directed by Duncan JonesStarring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle MonaghanPG-13 – 94 minutesContinues at the Oden, SilverCity and Uni 4
Most critics have invoked both The Matrix and Groundhog Day when discussing Source Code, and I’m not about to differ. The premise, wacky but simple, gets kick-started when a U.S. army helicopter pilot named Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has a moment of complete discombobulation only to find himself on a train heading towards Chicago on a sunny morning. He’s seated opposite a pretty woman named Christine (Michelle Monaghan, Mission: Impossible III), a commuter who seems to know him quite well and calls him Sean. The perplexed Colter has no idea who she is but has a much bigger shock when he goes into the washroom and glances into the mirror — only to see a very different face than that of his own staring back at him. Colter’s feelings of distress continue to mount, until a giant fireball erupts onboard the train and his incandescent death propels him back where he came from.
As Colter recovers his composure — well, some of it — he finds himself in communication with a coldly efficient military officer named Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, Up In The Air), whose face appears via a monitor that dominates the small capsule containing the confused pilot. Although he peppers her with questions, Goodwin ignores Colter’s fear and bafflement and pushes ahead with her own agenda. She is part of a military intelligence operation known as Beleaguered Castle, and in the weird world of Hollywood sci-fi she is, of course, part of a team that has mastered some peculiarity of quantum physics that allows them to send certain people back in time to certain destinations, with each journey restricted to exactly eight minutes. As it turns out, earlier that morning a terrorist blew up the train that Colter had just found himself on, and his assignment is to keep going back again and again until he can discover who the bomber is.
Thus, in dire mimicry of the aforementioned Groundhog, Colter keeps repeating the same journey — and meeting the same fate. But these repeats contain an interesting set of variations because his knowledge base keeps increasing as he gradually learns the layout of the train and investigates various passengers. He also begins to fall for Christine, and as he schemes for a way to save her life he annoys Beleaguered’s head scientist (Jeffrey Wright, Syriana, Casino Royale), who doesn’t want him distracted and keeps telling him that Christine is irretrievably dead except in this strange slice of time in a parallel universe that doesn’t really exist.
It isn’t fair to say more about the plot, which has some moderately clever twists and turns. There are a few deft touches of paranoia and questions about the idea of racial/suspect profiling: what does a mad bomber look like, anyway? There are also the obligatory riffs about semi-mad scientists obsessed with their experiments, as well as concerns about the inevitable conflict between military objectives and humanitarian concerns.
In short, this is an engaging albeit somewhat derivative thriller that has been gussied up with a clever gimmick and fine acting. (Although Gyllenhaal does some over-the-top scenery chewing as he portrays the disorientation of Colter at the beginning of his journey into that strange parallel world.) And Canadian chauvinists can take considerable pride in a supporting performance by comic Russell Peters, who plays an embittered comic named Max, one of the passengers on the doomed train. M