The dreamy Jake Gyllenhaal is doing a little dreaming of his own, his head resting against the glass as he rides a commuter train into Chicago, one seemingly random morning. This is the onset of Source Code and when he wakes up, it is pretty clear to everyone around him that something is just not right. Just like his fellow commuters though, Gyllenhaal has no idea what exactly it is that isn’t right. You can tell from the look on his face though that he feels like he has been on this train before. It isn’t until he looks in a mirror though that he questions whether he is even on the train at all. And it all just blows up after that.
Gyllenhaal is Captain Colter Stevens, an American soldier who is an integral part of an experimental and classified army mission meant to prevent terrorist attacks. The trouble is that Captain Stevens doesn’t seem to have any recollection of his being assigned to this mission; the last thing he remembers is flying in an air strike unit. His problems are only magnified when he realizes that the man he is on the train isn’t even him. Stevens, as it is explained to him, and subsequently us, at frustrating length, is part of the source code when he is on the train. What is the source code, you ask? Well, the source code is eight minutes of recereated time in which Stevens is transported into another commuter’s body in an effort to find the man who has planted a bomb on the train. This not only makes the source code experiemental; it also makes it pretty far fetched.
The train has already blown up in reality. There is nothing that can be done to stop it from happening. The man who blows it up though has bigger designs for the city of Chicago itself and this can still be prevented if only Colter could focus on the task at hand. He cannot focus at first though because he cannot get his footing. It is as if he has had no formal training for this mission and his contacts at the base (Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright) are oddly cold and uncooperative whenever he inquires about anything outside his mission. The purpose is later explained, but the blatant attempt to disorient the viewer comes off as more manipulative than revealing. Colter does get the hang of things eventually though and then it all becomes about the puzzle, with every object in plain sight becoming a potential clue.
Director, Duncan Jones, created a quiet and contemplative work of science fiction with his debut, Moon , and has naturally graduated to the big(ger) leagues with Source Code . While he is efficient with his extra funds, the larger cast and more convoluted story are too much for him to grasp all at once. With a repeated loop of eight minutes and a train that blows up every time those eight minutes elapse, Jones has a very specific frame to work within, but there isn’t enough growth between loops to keep people engaged. The other passengers might as well be cardboard cutouts for how much they bring to the experience and they look even more lost than Gyllenhaal did at the start. In the end, the code itself is just too complicated – it requires constant explanation, the effect of which only serves to highlight how ludicrous it is.