Sean (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a Chicago-bound train; across him sits his lovely looking friend, Christina (Michelle Monaghan) with whom he seems to share a platonic but budding romantic relationship. However the catch is that Sean is disoriented but more importantly convinced that he's not Sean. He claims his real name is Colter Stevens, and his immediate last recollection is of flying a helicopter in Afghanistan; he doesnt even ever remember being on this train. Eight minutes later, a bomb rips through the train, most likely killing all onboard, Colter included but rather than finding himself in some sort of afterlife, Colter is jolted back to reality and finds himself strapped into a seat in what appears to be some sort of simulation room or a space capsule with leaking hydraulic fluid. A woman, Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) appears on a screen in front of him providing him with an ambiguous bit of information that makes no sense whatsoever. It is learnt that he is in fact, Colter Stevens, but through a highly advanced bit of technology his is inside the 'Source Code', a virtual world where the right person can be placed in the body of someone else in an alternate universe back in time for the final eight minutes of that person's life. Here Colter is living Sean's last eight minutes & his goal is simple to find who bombed the train in order to avoid another potential bombing in the middle of Chicago. As the movie moves along questions not just about the source code but about the capsule in which Colter is and why is his last memory of Afghanistan start to crop up.
A highly simplified way of describing 'Source Code' would be to call it a hybrid of sorts between the alternate reality of the 'The Matrix', the repetition of a day (or eight minutes in this case) 'Groundhog Day' & a little bit of 'Deja Vu' (high-concept way to stop a terrorist). It's a high-concept thriller which doesn't forget to humanize it's protagonists but sometimes it does seem to veer dangerously close to the "cheese" in regards to providing an emotional connect. The basic story is not without it's loopholes but I guess any Sci-Fi movie with a concept so good is allowed to play around with its own set of rules as long as something truly outlandish isn't pulled off.
'Source Code' skirts around the issue of repeating the eight minutes without testing the patience of the audience either through some technical finesse or varied narrative styles. The occurrences at the start of those eight minutes (like the ticket checker, the spilling coffee, the irritated man by the window) however did tend to get on my nerves with every subsequent viewing.
The movies plot moves in three directions, one of finding the bomber, another of Colter determining where exactly is he and how did he get there and finally the big question as to what truly is the Source Code. These are supplemented with various themes such as the value of love and life, redemption, the cost of freedom for a greater good; each and every theme has a worthy stab taken at it in an attempt to flesh it out. I quite liked the relationship between Colter and his father while his relationship with Catherine feels a little rushed. I did find Goodwin's bouts of moral dilemma particularly effective thanks in a large part to Vera Farmiga's acting.
The ending of the movie goes soft in laying out a conclusion that would tie up loose ends and provide an emotional closure to the viewers. Though not bad by any stretch of imagination it doesn't quite provide the same tension, excitement and intrigue as the first hour of the movie does.
Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent & so is Vera Farmiga as the morally distressed Goodwin. Michelle Monaghan has a great smile and is just about competent in a role that doesnt demand much of her. Jeffery Wright is reliable as always in role that demands his dour best. Stand-Up comedian Russell Peters shows up in an extended cameo as surprise, surprise! A stand-up comedian who's traveling on the train.
'Source Code' is a smart movie that ambitiously tries to move beyond its Sci-Fi roots and the stellar concept that most movies would be content and thankful for having in the first place. All the tricks dont work as well as expected but I cant blame the writers and the director of laziness or incompetence. This is a taut, intelligent thriller which inspite of its share of plot-holes keeps you riveted for 90 minutes.