A man is in a metal cockpit strapped into a seat. He can see a video screen and is surrounded by science gadgets, gobs of wires and flashing lights.
The man is unique; a one-of-a-kind time traveler. On the screen is a patient but harried woman giving him orders. He needs to zip back in time, occupy the body of another man and identify the person who placed a bomb on a commuter train in Chicago.
The man has eight minutes. His goal is not to find or stop the bomber. Identification is all that is needed. The train has already blown up and everyone is dead.
The first mission fails. So there is a second. A third. And more.
The man knows who he is, but memories as to how he became a time traveler are fuzzy. Demands to the nameless woman and her aloof boss are useless. There is no time for explanations. The bomber must be found. He’s blown up the train and now threatens to set off a much larger bomb in the city. Panic has set in, and traffic is jammed as the city’s citizens flee to safety.
Tick tock. Each eight-minute segment offers up new clues. There are new characters, more possibilities. Tick tock. The end result bothers the man. Is there a solution? Tick tock. He is now in love. Tick tock. Can he find love with a woman that is already dead? Can he save people that are already dead? Can time be changed? Tick tock.
Time travel is a dangerous plot device. It always leads to puzzling and often unanswerable “what about” questions and comments that start with “but.”
Does great new director, Duncan Jones satisfactorily answer those questions? Yes. And no. Mixing the slick sci-fi style of TV’s excellent Quantum Leap with a dash of the humor and foundation of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day, Jones and writer Ben Ripley manage to explore the genre better than anyone has in a couple of decades.
Jones’ exceptional cinematography featuring fabulous shots of one of Chicago’s commuter trains on its way downtown, his ability to tell a great story and superb acting from Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright punch up an inspired plot.
When he reaches the climax, Jones’ time travel dilemma — and the dilemma of every filmmaker who has ever done a time travel movie — begins. Along come the “what about” questions and the “but” comments. We will all arrive at different solutions. My idea of how it ought to end may differ from yours, and it certainly differs from Jones.
The director, by the way, discusses it with me here. Go see the film and log on, find the Source Code’s Unique Ending — A Discussion entry just below this review and my interview with Duncan Jones.
The ending is part of the beauty of Jones’ brilliant film. While Source Code retreads pioneering projects that are its inspiration, it also walks on original, complex territory.
Whether you are a fan of science fiction or not, this is a great movie and is — ironically — the best offering in the genre since Jones’ 2009 low-budget masterpiece Moon.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It opens Friday, April 1 at Regal’s Columbia Center 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.