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MOVIE REVIEW: Source Code

David Bowie's son offers a silly action movie aspiring to be something more

  • Source Code
  • Source Code
  • Vera Farmiga as Carol Goodwin and Jeffrey Wright in "Source Code."
  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens in "Source Code."
  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens in "Source Code."
  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens in "Source Code."
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I was thinking that there’s really no way to write a review for this movie without ruining things in it. I’ve even seen press releases the studio issues on a movie, and it gives stuff away. I will not do that. Even the opening scene, when the audience isn’t sure what is going on…works better with the audience learning as the protagonist learns (played well by Jake Gyllenhaal).

Instead of giving anything away in this review, at the end I’ll list all the problems with the movie that include spoilers. That way people can choose to read it or ignore it, and they’ll know what they’re getting. It’ll clearly be labeled.

This is the story of a train passenger who is confused about who he is. He thinks he’s a helicopter pilot fighting in Afghanistan, but the woman next to him on the train tells him he’s a teacher. That is all I can tell you without ruining the story, aside from the fact that this is a science fiction film, not a military picture.

It was done by director Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie. He was off to a promising start with his movie Moon, which I thought was a blast. It was a bit derivative, but well done. This movie is a mess. I’d call it a sophomore slump, but critics and audiences are praising it.

What ended up bothering me is that we’re given this great cast: Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Up in the Air), and Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat, Casino Royale); the gorgeous Michelle Monaghan, a former model who I loved in the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, plays a train passenger and possible love interest. And they’re all fine acting their parts.

The science fiction is sloppy and doesn’t make sense. Not only does it not make sense, they don’t even follow their own rules. You need to have consistent logic in the science and technology. We’re told that when you die, the consciousness lingers, similar to the way you see a light bulb for a few seconds after turning off the light. Okay, that’s fine. The problem is they explain more things, which end up raising more questions than it answers. Maybe a better bet would’ve been to not explain things, because if you do, they have to be done right.

In Inception, we are never told how exactly these people get into another persons dreams. Yet in the similar movie Dreamscape, we are told you have to be within a few feet of the person to do it.

Some of the special effects work, some don’t. In this day and age with CG effects, they should’ve all looked good. It does have the best brain scene since Silence of the Lambs II, although…that brain scene should’ve been more like The Man With Two Brains, to make a bit more sense.

I’m giving it a D+.

SPOILERS and complaints with this movie:

I don’t mind the predictability of the story and what happened to Gyllenhaal, that he was able to get Farmia’s cell phone number, when she’s a high ranking government official (or scientist, or both).

I had no problem with the concept that these scientists/military group can send someone back in time, in hopes of gathering information on the terrorist that blew up a train. They took one of the people that died on the train, who has “source codes” that match the brain patterns of Gyllenhaal. They’re sending him into his brain/consciousness for info. At that point, I wish Gyllenhaal would’ve been an observer and not able to do different things. Wright explains that you aren’t time traveling, yet that’s exactly what Gyllenhaal is doing. It would’ve probably been a lot less fun to have him go back and live the same eight minutes the guy who died did, with just him looking around. Imagine Groundhog Day repeating, with Bill Murray just lying in bed listening to Sonny & Cher each day. That would actually be a vacation for Gyllenhaal, considering he doesn’t just live the same day over, but the same eight minutes over and over. And those don’t end with him in bed with a Andie MacDowell, or even in bed with Monaghan. He ends the day with spilled coffee on his shoe and in a blown up train.

I have a problem with Farmiga making crazy decisions late in the movie. She sends Gyllenhaal back to the train one last time, even though he completed his mission. She grants that wish knowing her boss will be furious. I’m guessing it also means she’ll lose her job and possibly do jail time. Of course, who will believe she actually saved more lives doing it. It really makes no sense why she would make the decision she made. As an audience, we have feelings for this young man who died in a war and is being used in a very stressful situation. She’s just reading brainwaves or something. Instead, she should be thrilled that this whole thing worked and they’ll be able to save thousands of lives in the future (and probably get rich in the process).

I’m also not sure if she somehow was sent back in time during this. Her boss is at the door screaming at her, and the next thing we know…her boss is in his office and she’s getting a text from Gyllenhaal, saying he saved the world. So she ends up making a great decision, yet nobody knows that. I just don’t know how time when backwards for her in that moment.

I wouldn’t have a problem with changing the past in a time travel movie. That’s what we expect. The problem is they set up rules that state you can’t do this. I at least expect them to play by those rules, or maybe not explain them as detailed as Wright did. Perhaps him just telling Gyllenhaal not to try to change the outcome for the clichéd reasons we usually hear (butterfly effect, won’t know what this might do negatively in the future, etc).

Now, Gyllenhaal does change the course of events, and stops the train from blowing up and killing innocent people (did you really think he wouldn’t?)

I’d be willing to give that a pass, except that means he gets to take over the “dead” persons body. Except with him saving these people, that “person” is no longer dead. He is alive. Alive, but now with Gyllenhaal inside him. Does that mean Gyllenhaal just took over this guys memory, too? What happens when this guys cell phone goes off, and his wife is asking why he’s not home from work? Does he say “Well…I’m a different person now, and have this new woman I met on a train.”

Or does he turn into the character Steve Martin turned into in the comedy All of Me, where Lily Tomlin is in his mind and he’ll now have dual personalities?

Did they even consider tackling this question, or did test audiences just love that lives are saved and the protagonist gets the pretty girl? Who wouldn’t want to get off a train in Chicago instead of living in a war zone?

Everyone hated when The Soprano’s just faded to black, but I think that would’ve been the best way to end this, right before the train blows up – perhaps in a freeze frame. We’d be left wondering, but it would’ve been better. If they felt that was sad, as we’d all assume Gyllenhaal died (but we wouldn’t be positive), they could’ve done something like in Gladiator. Russell Crowe is dying, but is reunited with his dead family. Maybe Gyllenhaal could’ve been in the fire of an exploding train, end up back in his crashed helicopter in Afghanistan, but with a more positive spin on it somehow.

Even people like Roger Ebert, who thought the science fiction was “preposterous” but liked it anyway, would have to admit that the last 15 minutes was movie cliché garbage. To enjoy this movie, you basically have to leave your brain at the door. I don’t see how that’s possible when a movie like this is asking you to think of all the wonderful possibilities of what this company is doing with science and the brain.