Who's In It: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden
The Basics: Jake Gyllenhaal is Captain Colter Stevens (points off for the porny soap opera name), whose consciousness has just woken up inside the body of a history teacher on a Chicago commuter train. As that teacher, JG has to find a mega-bomb hidden on the train, defuse it, then find the terrorist before that person detonates an even bigger bomb inside the city limits. And he has eight minutes to do it. Each time he fails he has to go back and repeat the process, Groundhog Day-style (through a scenario operated by the military known as "Source Code") until he gets it right. But the longer he takes the more likely the possibility that the terrorist will escape the train and set off the city-destroying explosion. So the stakes are somewhat higher than simply not scoring with Andie MacDowell.
What’s The Deal: Duncan Jones is the man behind this thing and he’s a name worth getting to know. He made the mind-scratching space odyssey Moon with Sam Rockwell—a movie that needs to be in your Netflix queue--and this, his second feature (one featuring a significantly bigger budget), is fast, cool, exciting and smart in ways you won’t expect. The mechanics are very Inceptiony and Avatarish and on trend, with semi-confusing explanations/non-explanations for how Gyllenhaal can be manipulating future reality by retreating into the past in his mind. But it's the heart and guts you'll really respond to when the logic starts to fail.
Biggest Surprise: It’s moving. And you think that might not matter, but it does. It’s one reason the dead-inside Sucker Punch (another movie where the otherwise powerless protagonist was shaping reality with mere thoughts) was a failure. The people here have reasons to do what they’re doing and the imaginary stakes are easily adapted to all the real world, post-9/11 fears and melancholy “what if” fantasies the audience will bring to it. Jones did the same thing with Moon, so turning cold, metallic, fantasy sci-fi humane seems to be one of his strengths.
Permission To Overact: Jeffrey Wright’s character, the introverted inventor of the “Source Code” program, is full of tics and twitches and funny-voiced line readings. He’s too good an actor to be this much of a ham, but you kind of don’t mind, because by overdoing it he brings some humor to the table. (Gyllenhaal employs simple, unshaven cockiness to accomplish the same task. Not sure which is more difficult.)
One Nagging Question: Not that it matters too much in the long run, but if Gyllenhaal’s mind and soul are in some random history teacher, then what happened to that other guy’s consciousness? And what if that other guy never intended to make out with Michelle Monaghan? I know, spoiler.