Review: Source Code delivers an astoundingly good speculative fiction tale

This weekend saw the release of Source Code, a thriller/mystery with speculative elements, which seems to hit all the marks.

Captain Coulter Stevens wakes on a train bound for Chicago. He seems to be in the body of a stranger, and the people around him don’t recognize who he really is.

After eight minutes of confused exploration, the train explodes around him, and he wakes up in a strange capsule, speaking to a woman who seems to know who he is, and identifies herself as part of Beleaguered Castle, an apparent military project.

She tells him that it’s his job to find the bomb, and then he’s back in the stranger’s body, reliving the eight minutes over again.

At first Captain Stevens believes he’s in a simulation, and he returns to the body of this man he doesn’t know several times, attempting to solve the mystery, but as it continues, it becomes more difficult for Stephens to accept his mission, and he begins to wonder about himself.

He must uncover the mystery behind his own life and his involvement with the Beleaguered Castle project before he can find a way to stop the bomber.

Gyllenhaal’s performance as Coulter Stevens is spectacular. Reminiscent of his performance in Prince of Persia, he proves once again that he’s perfect for the moody and confused action hero. The rest of the cast is only on par, and Jeffrey Wright, who plays the leader and creator of the Beleaguered Castle project, spends much of the movie phoning in his performance. The film does not suffer for it however, as most of the screen is simply dominated by Gyllenhaal, and it would have been tough to shine beside him, no matter how good they had been

The shy social commentary in the film is perfect, and hits all the marks it should in a truly speculative narrative.

Sure, there a few points which should perhaps have been left alone, such as the commentary on racial profiling that comes about when Captain Stephen’s first real suspect is a suspicious-looking Arabic man, but the story explores the ramifications of a supposed near-future technology through the eyes of a common man, allowing him to experience the full scope and ramifications of the path this technology sets us down.

Surprisingly, the technobabble, while still babble, does not come off as sounding completely ridiculous, as it usually would in a film of this scope.

The basic concept is this: The world is full of ‘afterimages’ of events, echoes of things that have already happened. These can be captured, and form the titular ‘source code’.

They cannot be interpreted however without an explorer, someone to move through the source code and report back findings. This process requires that the brain of a person who was part of the original event be connected to a compatible host, who can then explore eight minutes of the event through that person’s short-term memory.

The action is excelently paced, and doesn’t leave the audience lost or rolling their eyes. The events of the film seem to fly past, leaving th audience trying to grab onto each shred, each clue, but it all comes together so neatly, one can do little other than smile at the resulting finish.

Source Code is one to see for any fan of sci-fi action. Its deep, understanding, and has a level of narrative polish missing from most mainstream films today.