Some movies arise from a good idea. Some movies are well-told stories. A very few movies are well-told stories about good ideas.
Source Code is one of those movies.
Much like Duncan Jones' previous film Moon, Source Code contains a sequence which in other films would be the story's 'Big Reveal.' In most of those movies, those which are about good ideas but not told as well, that Big Reveal would anchor the movie. Usually, they would be used as Twists Near The End.
Duncan Jones doesn't do that. His stories are about ideas, and he gives you those ideas when it makes logical sense during the story - not when it makes the most 'dramatic' sense. As a result, they feel well-balanced; and crafted as opposed to produced.
The movie opens with aerial shots of the Chicago skyline, taking us through the urban canyons during the subdued credits sequence. We eventually end up in a semi-rural area, watching a train speed through the burgeoning suburbs - by implication (and later via explicit shot) heading for Chicago. It's a commuter train - two-level.
A man wakes from a doze aboard the train, his head leaning against the window. Across from him is a pretty dark-haired girl, speaking to him familiarly - but he doesn't know her. He doesn't know where he is. He doesn't know what he's doing there. We watch him try to figure out what's happening.
Then the train explodes.
And then he wakes up somewhere else.
This happens in the first few minutes of the movie.
And that's basically the setup for Source Code. What's happening? Why? To who? These are the questions you'll find yourself trying to answer - not always to your satisfaction.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays our protagonist Colter Stevens with convincing levels of confusion, frustration and eventually conviction. Like Moon, this really is a story about one man. Unlike Moon, there are other people in this movie - but, we find out, this really is a story about one man, in several ways.
If you liked Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day and/or (at least the idea if not the execution of) the Denzel Washington film Deja Vu, you'll be well placed to appreciate this movie. If you're the kind of person who appreciates references you'll really enjoy at least one of the easter egg moments.
Source Code is the story of a soldier, whose job is to defend his nation - to lay down his life in its defense if necessary. It's the story of people using technology to try to save lives, and of people whose lives depend entirely on technology. Sure, there are some Big Questions about How This Works that you might find yourself worrying over at the end - but let them go. This isn't a tight logic puzzle. This is a story. If you are of a mind to find the logical flaws in the Macguffin, then you're not in the right frame of mind to enjoy this movie.
Which would be a shame. Because it's quite enjoyable.
Source Code (2011)
Director: Duncan Jones ("Zowie Bowie")
Colter Stevens - Jake Gyllenhaal
Christina Warren - Michelle Monaghan
Colleen Goodwin - Vera Farmiga
Dr. Rutledge - Jeffrey Wright