SOURCE CODE directed by Duncan Jones (USA, 2011)

A bomb has destroyed a Chicago bound commuter train killing everyone on board and the man responsible has threatened to strike again.

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes on the physical shape of one of the passengers and has just eight minutes to travel back in time for his mission of locating the terrorist.

The fast paced action of Source Code resembles a Matrix meets Groundhog Day video game where if Stevens fails to complete the objective it is ‘game over’ and he must start all over again.

As any game writer knows,  the trick to getting players hooked is that each time around you learn a little bit more to fulfil the objective.

Inevitably this is a tall tale with numerous gaping plot holes. Why, for example, on such a race against time exercise is he not properly briefed before he finds himself on the train the first time around. (Who am I? Where am I?)

Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) belatedly instructs him of his mission saying glibly that if he finds the bomb he’ll find the bomber.

This logic would only be accurate if his target was a suicide bomber yet we already know that the bomber has survived to reap further havoc on the nation. This being the case, Steven is clearly wasting his energy charging up and down the carriage hitting on suspicious characters (look out for a bearded man of Middle Eastern appearance staring menacingly at his cell phone).

Source Code creator Dr. Rudledge (Jeffrey Wright) is not overly concerned with ethics but rubs his hands with glee over the fact that he has “a powerful weapon for the war on terror”.  He is also full of pseudo scientific blather about “parallel calculus”, “quantum mechanics” and something about light bulbs. The message being that Stevens is not engaged in a common or garden time travel scenario but with “time reassignment”.

Nevertheless, Stevens begins to ponder why, since he is a physical, rather than a ghostly, presence he can’t manipulate events. In doing so, he invokes the old chestnut of time travel stories: to what extent can or should the travellers tinker with history. I remember an episode of the 1960s cult TV show The Time Tunnel where two heroes find themselves on board The Titanic and, not unreasonably, take it upon themselves to try and convince the captain to be on the look out for icebergs (they failed).

Source Code doesn’t bear close analysis but it is still a compact and highly entertaining thriller. As with Duncan Jones’ debut movie, Moon, a large part of its appeal stems from siding with a solitary individual as he struggles to understand and ultimately outwit an unscrupulous and technologically advanced system.

We root for the underdog and suspend belief. This is cinema.

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