The sci-fi thriller Source Code is like watching a tightrope walker without a net. The premise seems so thin at first, but by the end you have to admire its balancing act and audacity.
Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon), the movie begins with the shot of a commuter train powering its way to Chicago. Sean (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes to find himself seated opposite Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who begins talking to him as a friend. After a series of innocuous incidents, the disoriented man insists he isn't who she thinks he is and leaps up to rush to the restroom, where he sees someone else's face in the mirror. But before he can investigate further, the train blows up.
When he wakes up (again), he's back where he remembers he was — strapped inside a downed helicopter in Afghanistan. His name is Capt. Colter Stevens.
A woman's voice can be heard saying something about "beleaguered castle." When he finally makes a connection, he finds that the voice belongs to an Air Force officer (Vera Farmiga, perfect as usual), who tells him he's on a mission to find the bomber. She takes orders from Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), who has created a software program called Source Code that allows Colter to relive the final moments on the train.
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What happens then in this brisk film is a series of clever repetitions — sort of a cousin to Groundhog Day — that keeps upping the tension as Colter tries to deduce who the terrorist is among the train's passengers and to figure out his own situation when he returns to the helicopter. Floated in there are some existential questions of free will and a larger purpose in life.
Though Source Code is not a big-budget film, Jones deftly creates an intimacy among the characters that pays off in a big way during the action sequences, and Gyllenhaal ably captures Colter's angst while remaining the tough guy he needs to be to be a hero.
Source Code retails for $26.99 or $30.49 Blu-ray.