‘Source Code’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated May 22nd, 2011 at 7:54 pm,

Source Code Review Source Code Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Source Code

Duncan Jones, son of musician David Bowie, erupted onto the Hollywood landscape with his critically lauded film Moon – which the filmmaker both wrote and directed. Moon, which starred Sam Rockwell (and the disembodied voice of Kevin Spacey), was a fascinating and intimate science-fiction project that stirred up a lot of buzz following its debut at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival – putting Jones on the map as one of Hollywood’s premiere up-and-coming filmmakers.

As a result, Moon fans, and critics alike, have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jones’ follow-up film, Source Code. That said, unlike Moon, Jones is only sitting in the Source Code director’s chair – since the film was scribed by Species III (a direct to DVD release) screenwriter, Ben Ripley. Does Jones successfully inject the same care into Ripley’s first feature film as he did with his own script, Moon?

Read on to find out.

Source Code doesn’t possess the same intimacy, brains, or stand-out performances as Jones’ prior work but it still manages to deliver an entertaining, albeit flawed, time at the theater. It’s certainly not fair to directly compare Moon, a sci-fi heavy character drama, and Source Code, a dramatic-thriller with sci-fi elements, but fans that were expecting another deep and thought-provoking project from Jones, might be left a bit unfulfilled. For moviegoers looking for a smarter-than-average thriller, Source Code is likely to deliver.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic premise of Source Code, here’s the official synopsis:

When decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he’s ever known, he learns he’s part of a government experiment called the Source Code, a program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life. With a second, much larger target threatening to kill millions in downtown Chicago, Colter re-lives the incident over and over again, gathering clues each time, until he can solve the mystery of who is behind the bombs and prevent the next attack.

The story plays out somewhat like the 2006 Tony Scott/Denzel Washington film, Deja Vu – except with a “grittier” tenor. The Source Code cast approach the proceedings very seriously and, at times, the detachment works to the film’s advantage – playing to the larger thematic elements, such as duty and sacrifice, that arise as the story progresses. Jones also succeeds at bringing the same subtle touches to this film as he did Moon – striving for engaging drama within a complicated, but at the same time limited, setting. As a result, moment-to-moment Source Code will keep an audience engaged; however, the overall film staggers under the weight of the lofty sci-fi concept – limping forward until it comes to rest at an unearned conclusion.

Sourc Code Jake Gyllenhaal Source Code Review

Jake Gyllenhaal as Captain Stevens in 'Source Code'

Gyllenhaal gives an adequate performance as Captain Stevens, successfully balancing the character’s confusion, mission, and personal story effectively. Each jump to the train allows Stevens to take a slightly different approach to the mission – creating moments of subtle humor, tense drama, and surprisingly believable sympathy. That said, for a character that’s written as a master of details (and memory) – the script fails Stevens by routinely showing the Captain’s difficulty at understanding the most basic elements of the Source Code premise. The result: too much exposition – that is subsequently regurgitated repeatedly.

Stevens serves as a sufficient protagonist, but the stark Source Code tone wreaks havoc on the supporting characters (in spite of a number of charming performances, especially Vera Farmiga) – reducing everyone but Stevens to caricature: a manipulative overseer, a dutiful soldier, as well as a beautiful and strong-willed love interest. Given the numerous jumps back to the train, as well as the overarching disorientation created by the story withholding information for the sake of drama, it’s hard to get to know anyone but Stevens – since the characters are either trapped by the recycled events of the past or because, in the present, their motivations (and subsequently their emotions) are concealed for too long. As a result, it’s hard to appreciate their respective journeys – since we barely knew them in the first place.

The most egregious example of the less-than-stellar character development is presented by the film’s terrorist – whose motivation, as well as on-screen portrayal, are both anti-climactic. Since two hundred people die in the first five minutes of the film, the threat appears unrelenting but, as the curtain is peeled back, the story seems less and less interested in paying-off the brutality of the original attack – reducing the villain to nothing more than one empty box on Stevens’ “wrongs to be righted” checklist.

Source Code Train Source Code Review

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan in a scene from 'Source Code'

Fans looking for a competent sci-fi story may also feel a bit cheated since, not only is the logic of Source Code’s basic premise somewhat convoluted (and contradicted within the actual film), the final act creates a myriad of awkward and baffling long-term implications that the film never earns – and, from a closely-examined character standpoint, aren’t particularly fulfilling. It’s science-fiction so of course the audience is expecting to suspend disbelief, but given the events in the final act, it’s hard to ignore that either a) the Source Code scientists are the worst researchers on the entire planet or b) the Source Code writer/filmmakers were in over their heads by the end.

In spite of the over-complicated premise, Source Code succeeds at offering an above-average dramatic-thriller with some interesting sci-fi ideas for fans of the genre to debate. There’s no doubt that moviegoers will likely enjoy the ride; however, aside from minute-to-minute story beats, the film falls short of being as smart as it seemingly aimed to be – and will undoubtedly leave many audience members baffled at the story’s lasting consequences.

If you’ve already seen the film and want to talk about its details without ruining it for others, head over to our Source Code spoilers discussion to chat about anything that could spoil the experience for those who haven’t seen it yet.

However, if you’re still on the fence about Source Code, check out the trailer below:

[poll id="140"]

Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

Source Code is now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. After reading this, I think I should re-scale my expectation for Source Code by going down a few notches.
    This film’s critical reviews on the net have been quite divided and vastly varied so far – 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, Ebert is giving it a solid 3.5 stars while IGN gave a little bashing last month. Still interesting and will still watching it when it arrives in Malaysia.

  2. I would watch this in theaters if I lived closer to one. It’s about a half an hour to forty minute drive, so I really only go to movies that are really good. Unless it’s a big action movie, than I might go. ;)

  3. Dont understand the negative comments. I saw it Wed and thought it was excellent. Both the story and all the actors were exceptional.

    • If your are talking about the article, I believe Ben stated his reasoning for his comments, be it positive or negative, quite well. If you are referring to the posters above you, then I have no clue what you’re talking about.

    • i agree that the villain didn’t have a great motivation but besides that i’m with you, it was a far above average April movie and is worth seeing more than once, and even if the supporting actors could have had more characterization, its escused because they all nailed their performances in my opiion :)

    • Umm, no. This movie was extremely formulaic. The script used so many cliches it was like it was written by a committee of 13 year olds who had seen maybe 10 films in their lives. Let me try to count the cliches: 1) DoD secret program; 2)terrorists with dirty bombs; 3) quantum physics; 4) injured Army vet; 5) against all odds hopeful love saga; 6) characters being “plugged in” to a computer; 7) many of the lines of the movie (e.g. “There just so much ….. life!”) were clearly plagiarized… I could go on and on. The only “good” part of the film is Gyllenhaal’s acting, which is really just adequate.

      The worst part of the film was that the science didn’t sustain the drama.

  4. Looks good to me…I will definitely watch it when it comes out on Netflix. Kind of reminds me of the premise (distantly) of author Richard Doetsch’s book, “The 13th. Hour”, a good read by the way which I believe is slotted to become a movie soon, also.

  5. See, that’s why I don’t write for SR; you guys rock at reviews. Very good, thought-provoking analysis, Ben. I was wondering about this movie. I like the time-travel type movies but sometimes they can get convoluted, just like this one. I may just wait for this when it comes out on DVD.

    • The previews I have seen remind me alot of the Star Trek TNG episode “Cause and Effect” and not in a good way. I found that episode to be VERY annoying with the constant shifting back to what happened before. I may see this film, but probably once it is available on Netflix.

      • Wait a second! You didn’t just diss TNG?! Kahless, it’s time for battle!

        At last!! It is a good day to die!!


        • I love TNG just as much as the next guy, well maybe not AS much as SOME people, but that episode was just plain annoying. Of course the first time I watched it was while in college and just a LITTLE bit buzzed when I watched it. LOL…

    • @Kahless

      Thanks! Glad you thought so. I enjoyed Source Code but you wouldn’t be losing too much by checking it out on DVD.

  6. I absolutely HATED Deja Vu, because I hate it when writers use ‘technology’ to explain plot holes. That said, as hard as it will be for me to get past the impossible logic of this movie, I’m sure I’ll see it since it’s got Duncan Jones’ touch.

    • “Thank You For Smoking” – Cigarettes in space…

  7. I LOVED IT!!!!!

  8. wait, source code have 3 stars, and Insidius 4 stars ? wtf

    • Vic has mentioned it before but, as reviewers at SR, we don’t have one particular review lens that we all look through.

      I can’t speak for Rob F. (who reviewed Insidious) but, aside from the fact separate people reviewed them, the two films aren’t particularly comparable either – one’s a cerebral sci-fi thriller and the other is a horror film.

      I’d still recommend Source Code (but it’s subjective) – I’d rather see an above average sci-fi thriller than a solid horror flick ;)

  9. What I don’t understand is the continued fascination with “Moon”, which in my opinion was an “ok” first film, with a boring premise.

    • I agree that Moon was completely average. It also took so much from 2001 that I couldn’t take it seriously. I don’t know how someone could watch 2001, watch Moon, and be OK with thinking Moon was some sort of modern-day sci-fi classic.

  10. @Mike E

    Absolutely agree, infact I’d go even further to say that Moon is one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen, I thought it was never going to end at one point.

    For anyone suffering from insomnia, I’d highly recomend it

    • What didn’t you guys understand about Moon?

      Most sci fi fans I know called Moon one of the best of the year.

    • Try watching The Great Gatsby.

  11. Moon is overrated. District 9 is so much better. I can understand why people would like Moon tho. I think Neil’s Elysium is going to set him in a league of his own.

  12. Gotta disagree with this review. I thought the film was pretty damn good. I’m actually surprised given how very positive most reviews have been take a peak at the good score over at RT. I honestly expected SR to give it a better review. This just seems way off to me. I liked the movie alot

    Solid 4/5 great acting good story exciting action. I liked not getting to personal with the killer. Honestly I hate the idea of movies trying to justify a terrorist it’s ridiculous. I think they avoided getting to know him on purpose and I think it worked in the films favor.

  13. Regarding the review, is it really possible to “stagger under the weight” of something lofty?

    • netshark,



  14. Wow this was as horrible as sucker punch watched both back to back and i can tell you the whole plot of this movie is absurd. You ratedit to high 2/5 stars.

  15. I really enjoyed it. Nothing bad to say about it, they did well for having to cram so much into such a short time frame.

  16. this movie sucked so bad.

    • @Mr.Bronson

      Agreed mate it absolutely sucked nothing at all substance wise the Sci-fi in this was just plain horrible. Dont get me started on the ending.

      On Heindseight i think 1/5 stars could easily have been justifiable

      • Glad I share common minds about this film. In short, the movie for me was forced to have a happy ending trying to deceive you that they all lived happily ever after.

        “Well isn’t that cute… BUT IT’S WRONG!”

        or like in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes:

        A: Wow his dress is really majestic!
        B: But he has nothing on!

        Get what I mean?

  17. Movies are a risk! You pay your money and you take your chances with whats offered up to you on the big screen! If you keep listening to other peoples opinions on films then you will never see any film at all!!

    Go on,take a risk, grow as a person!

  18. I saw “Source Code” last night, it was probably the wost movie i have ever seen. It was repeated like 7 times, I could see that it was a really low buget movie since it was repeated. A good actor should not have played in this movie. I do not recomend this movie to anyone. 1 Star *

  19. I like Mind-screw sci-fi films (mostly when I`m stoned).I like mind screw films even more when it is very well done.These type of films rely on the director to have everything in place otherwise everything falls apart.
    Source Code is a Cliche` sort of film,but not really a tribute.It`s not just the plot and the characters but the themes that float parallel with other Sci-fi films such as ;The Matrix,Avatar,Inception,Deja-vu,Minority Report,Memento,Groundhog`s day.But the thing is I liked it.
    I`m the type of guy that tries to figure it out when I watch a movie.
    And this movie really let me go loose at some moments.Although Memento and Inception was better films,Source Code didn`t lead me to the ‘answer/question’ like those two did.It just rolled along the parallel train tracks as I was in the P.O.V of Captain Stevens.
    Let me explain:His acting was first Bi-polaric,one moment his confused/sad ,the other his trying to figure things out.I didn`t know how long or how many times he repeated this mission.I also thought it was a simulation at first.I thought it was deep under neath the ocean to ensure a certain brain-state of dreaming.I Did not know that he was in a coma.
    The other characters where very convincing as well (Vera was like the Psychiatrist memory doctor).I didn`t like Derek Frost the villain,he was flat.I also didn`t like the happy/comedic tone in some scenes but it was satisfying at the end.
    The Plot I think is only there to explain the sci-fi.The real story begins when he(a vegatable) disarms the bomb and saves countless lives.

    I like the ending how he created a parallel universe inside the Sourcecode,How his mind was being copied by a program and his mind copied the program in return .There is a scene when the Dr.Rutledge says something about any day now the right crises will turn up ,and Captain Stevens says to Captain Goodwin via mobile message something like;Somewhere in your facility there is a Captain Stevens and you should tell him to hold on.
    To those who don`t know what that means:He basically stopped the train and city from exploding in that universe,but he will not be able to prevent the next big attack,because he lives in the real world and not in a Source code anymore(he died at the end).The Captain Stevens in that reality,will have to decrypt the next attack in 8 minutes and he too will request to die at the end of the mission and also create another parallel universe where he again will warn Goodwin about an attack therefore rendering the Source code in that universe useless.He will basically be able to live through other healthy people by preventing their deaths through his real paralyzed comatose state.The Source code project will never be a success as Dr.Rutledge hoped.

  20. I like the movie and would watch it more than once, however the movie critic I am in my opinion I think the movie could have been better and I really don’t agree as the movie portrays a white man as the bomber. Lets face it since when is that true. We all know the history in real life.

    • 3 stars screenrant shame on you!