Let's do the time warp again, and again
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, April 1, 2011
The nifty speculative thriller “Source Code” obeys one of the fundamental rules of Hollywood, wherein amateurs borrow and professionals steal. In this case, screenwriter Ben Ripley has filched from the best, delivering a taut, mostly well-crafted race against the clock that combines the time-loop conceit of “Groundhog Day” and the postwar paranoia of “The Manchurian Candidate.”
“The Groundhogian Candidate,” anyone?
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens, a decorated U.S. soldier recently deployed in Afghanistan, doesn’t play much solitaire in “Source Code.” Then again he doesn’t really have the time. The movie opens with Stevens jolting awake on a Chicago commuter train, while his pretty seat mate (Michelle Monaghan) chatters happily away about quitting her job. Disoriented, Stevens has no idea who this woman is or why he’s on the train. A few minutes later, a bomb goes off and he’s sucked into yet another reality, a cramped metallic capsule smelling strongly of hydraulic fluid.
What’s going on? And who’s that uniformed lady talking in Stevens’s ear? That would be a dulcet-voiced but shadowy handler named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who with her boss (Jeffrey Wright) operates an experimental time-travel operation for the U.S. military. As "Source Code" unfolds in a series of cleverly assembled accordion pleats, it all begins to make sense, sort of, as Stevens discovers he’s on a mission with supernatural overtones but very real consequences.
Adroitly directed by Duncan Jones ("Moon"), "Source Code” clicks along with swift, crisp tension, with Gyllenhaal delivering an assured lead performance as a man at once out of his depth and supremely self-assured. He joins a recent spate of ordinary men assuming extraordinary control over their own fates, including Matt Damon in “The Adjustment Bureau” and Bradley Cooper in “Limitless.” (Is this trend a wish-fulfillment response to collective anxiety in the face of overwhelming and uncertain economic and social times? Discuss!)
Indeed, it’s the persuasive turns of all the cast members — within an otherwise preposterous setup — that allow filmgoers to surrender to the propulsive force of “Source Code.” Monaghan and Farmiga are especially winning as the sympathetic women who coax Stevens along a path that, while preordained, he insists on twisting. The only misstep comes from Wright, who lays the Poindexter nerdiness on a bit thick as a hard-hearted scientist.
As for outright stumbles, “Source Code” loses its footing at the end, with a conclusion that strikes a discordantly mushy note after the carefully calibrated procedural that has gone before. But for the most part, “Source Code” delivers on its promises with precision and care — all that’s missing is Punxsutawney Phil and a toast to world peace.
Contains some violence, including some disturbing images, and profanity.