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Source Code (Blu-ray Review)

20 Jul, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 7/26/11
Box Office $54.7 million
$26.99 DVD, $30.49 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some violence including disturbing images, and for language.
Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright.

Source Code is one of those movies where it’s best not to think too hard about the plot. The script provides a rudimentary explanation to justify its Groundhog Day meets “Quantum Leap” meets Minority Report concept, but it mostly exists as an excuse for a screenwriter to play with non-linear storytelling.

It begins with a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) waking up on a Chicago commuter train and having no idea why he’s there. He has a flirtatious encounter with a woman (Michelle Monaghan) sitting across from him, and she seems to know him, but when he looks in the mirror the man sees a face that isn’t his own. Then the train explodes, and the man finds himself in a dark box being told to focus by a military officer (Vera Farmiga) on a TV screen.

The man’s name is Colter Stevens, and he’s part of a project called Operation Beleaguered Castle, which uses something called the Source Code to let him occupy the body of a doomed man on the train during the final eight minutes of his life. Stevens’ mission is to discover why the train exploded, and who is responsible, in order to prevent a future attack the authorities believe is coming. So Stevens must repeat the sequence until he gets it right, altering the outcome with each trip.

It’s an ingenious plot device that lets the filmmakers get away with deceiving the audience. Is what Stevens sees just a simulation, or is a new alternate reality created with each trip? And if it’s a simulation, why does the film spend so much time treating it with the emotional weight of actual reality? The filmmakers give their interpretation in the commentary, but there’s plenty of room for viewers to decide.

Because he’s not a moron, Stevens manages to solve the crime within only a few jumps, and the back half of the film is mostly devoted to Stevens’ attempts to resolve his own situation that involves how his own military career led him to being trapped in that box.

Setting aside the mind-twisting plot implications, Source Code works as an effective thriller because Gyllenhaal, Monaghan and Farmiga inject it with a strong emotional core that makes the audience care about them, even as the film is manipulating the viewer’s expectations. This is the second film from director Duncan Jones, following 2009’s Moon, which similarly toyed with the audience’s sense of reality.

The Blu-ray includes a comprehensive “Access: Source Code” viewing option with pop-up focus points that appear during the film. It includes a mini-commentary by Sergei Gukov, professor of theoretical physics and mathematics at Cal Tech; behind-the-scenes videos and interviews; primers on quantum physics; information about other time travel movies and books (it even gets Hot Tub Time Machine in there); historical facts; and trivia about seemingly everything, such as the most expensive desk ever sold. A neat change from other such viewing modes is that this one includes a little countdown clock that lets viewers know when the next focus point is coming.

The disc also includes a commentary that seems designed to enlighten audiences about the filmmaking process, in that there’s a director, a writer and an actor asking each other about their corner of the craft to the benefit of the viewer. Topics include the evolution of the script, the differences between using digital and film cameras to create mood, and the types of details actors will pick up to enhance their performances.

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