Philosophers have suggested that humans are a mimetic and imitative lot; when something new is created, a number of copycats appear, most of whom are of lackluster quality. There always seem to be a few, however, that grasp on to the basic concept of the original and improve upon it, creating something new altogether.
In this way, film is no exception. Most recently, Christopher Nolan’s "Inception" took the moviegoing public by storm, and many filmmakers have attempted to and will likely continue to attempt to, dub-tail off of the film’s success with imitations that are poor copycats at best and terrible to the core at worst. At first glance, one might place the Duncan Jones-directed "Source Code" in such a category, due to a premise that is as abstract as Nolan’s film. However, to merely write "Source Code" off as just a cheap knock-off would be wrong; with a thoughtful and well-executed plot, beautiful special effects and a powerful performance by star Jake Gyllenhaal ("Love and Other Drugs"), the film serves as an interesting and arguably more accessible alternative to Nolan’s blockbuster.
The film centers around Colten Stevens, Gyllenhaal, an army helicopter pilot who awakens to find himself on a train headed for Chicago with no recollection of how he got there. Upon looking at his driver’s license, he realizes his reflection is that of another man, and his driver’s license identifies him as Sean Fentress. Christina, the woman sitting next to him, played by Michelle Monaghan, ("Eagle Eye") also seems to know him as Fentress, which causes some confusion between the two of them. After a few minutes, however, the train explodes, instantly killing everyone on board.
Stevens then wakes up in a strange chamber, where he is greeted via computer screen by a woman named Goodwin, played by Vera Farmiga ("Up in the Air"). Goodwin explains to Stevens that for the past two months he has been undergoing training to participate in the Source Code project, in which a person can be inserted into someone of equal physical and mental fortitude and relive their life up to eight minutes before they died. Stevens’ mission is to jump back into the Source Code of Sean Fentress in order to determine the identity of a bomber who blew the train up and will later detonate a larger bomb. Despite Goodwin’s sincere assurance that the Source Code is not an alternate reality (and that all of the lives lost in the explosion cannot be saved), Stevens is determined to save everyone, including Christina, to whom he has grown attached. Stevens must balance his attention between the mission at hand and the rescue of everyone on the train.
As mentioned above, the film’s basic concept seems rather reminiscent of the dream-travel plot of "Inception"; both involve deep and at times confusing forms of travel through time and space. That said, the plot of "Source Code" is more easily understood than that of "Inception;" a mere five-minute description of how the Source Code works is suitable for the average moviegoer to understand. The film’s cast, while small, is effective. Gyllenhaal is a perfect fit for Stevens/Fentress, and Monaghan provides an excellent performance as his love interest.
The film boasts a number of beautiful visual effects, mostly during the transitions between this reality and the Source Code. While not as mind-bending as "Inception," these effects are notably gorgeous and engaging.
Despite a number of people’s complaints about how the movie appears to be "another ‘Inception’ copycat," the film manages to stand on its own rather nicely. Though somewhat short, the film makes good use of its 94-minute running time.
Moviegoing audiences seeking to save themselves from boredom should check out "Source Code" quickly – before time runs out.