Source Code grabbed me. It entertained and engaged me enough that I wasn't bothered by the premise, which is pure hooey. When I was fed spoonfuls of additional information that made the concept seem even more illogical — and I'm talking about the story's internal logic — I didn't mind. At the end, when events in the film defied everything its ambitious lead scientist (Jeffrey Wright) told me to be true, I just grinned.
I was reminded of Frequency, the 2000 film starring Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid where a man makes contact with his father, who died when he was a kid, over the family's ham radio — How? Sunspots! — and the two men rewrite time and reaffirm their father/son bond. It was silly as hell, not to mention overtly sentimental, and it swept me away. When it pops up on TV I still tune in.
Ben Ripley wrote the screenplay for Source Code, which is helmed by Duncan Jones, who did a fine job directed the similarly-themed "Moon" in 2009. The set-up goes like this: Army Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a commuter train heading for Chicago. His friendly seatmate Christina (Michelle Monaghan) calls him Sean. A look in the mirror provides the reflection of another man. Not much time to sort things out, as a terrorist bomb soon blows up the train.
Now Stevens wakes up confined in a dark, wet capsule. On the video screen, fellow soldier Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) informs him that he is part of an experimental project where he can relive the last eight minutes of another person's life — in this case Sean the commuter. His task is to find the bomb and bomber, who is about to detonate a much bigger dirty bomb in the heart of Chicago. Stevens must accomplish his goal, no matter how many times he has to get blown up.
So there you go. You want to figure it out — have a ball. I simply rolled with it, and here's why:
First, Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect in the lead role. He's got the physicality and the purposefulness to convincingly play a man of action, coupled with those big puppy dog eyes that break your heart. He commits to the role completely and I believed him.
Second, as Goodwin, the soldier on the other side of the video screen, Vera Farmiga manages to invest a surprising amount of depth into her character.
Third, almost all of the movie takes place on a bright, sunny day. Nice change of pace from the dark colors and lighting of most films in this genre. The Chicago setting is also a plus. The town looks great here.
Fourth, throughout his ordeal, Stevens keeps trying to contact his father. Seems their last conversation was an argument and the soldier wants to straighten things out. Ah, father issues — the fuel behind many of the films most popular with men. Even though I got to fully make peace with my father before he passed, I still get choked up in movies like this. I love you, Dad.
Spoilery fun fact: the voice of Stevens' father is provided by none other than Scott Bakula, who bounced through time for several seasons on the TV series Quantum Leap.
Finally, the action is clear, even if the internal logic isn't. Duncan Jones knows how to present his visuals in a clear fashion, which is a big plus in the action scenes. On the other hand, his presentation doesn't exactly make it hard to figure out the identity of the bomber.
Bottom line, I can't make a case for Source Code as superior cinema anymore than I could for Frequency. All I can say is they both worked for me. Your mileage may vary.