A passenger train travels through Chicago, the same way it has every other day for years, but there's something different about its journey today, and something strange about one of the passengers (Jake Gyllenhaal). He wakes up to see a woman (Michelle Monaghan) across from him, and though she is talking to him as if they know each other he hasn't the faintest idea who she is. As he is disoriented, he tries to find his bearings but thrown into even more confusion when the reflection in the window doesn't match his face. What is going on?
Do you have any regrets? Would you like to do something to change the source of those misgivings about your past? Well, Hollywood has your answer, the only trouble is that it's a fantasy solution which does not work in real life, but that being the dream factory it will allow you to wallow in the possibilities of finding that right partner or making up with those you shouldn't have left on unfriendly terms, which was pretty much the premise of Source Code. This was the second feature directed by Duncan Jones after cult hit Moon, and like that applied science fiction to its musings on the human condition.
The man on the train is Colter Stevens, and he used to think he was a soldier in Afghanistan, but now he appears to be in some kind of capsule with a screen the only method of communication with the outside world. He has ended up here apparently due to the train he was on exploding, linking this to the disaster movie genre, except the idea is to prevent the disaster rather than survive it in some way as the supporting cast fall by the wayside. Obviously Colter is part of an experiment, but quite what the nature of that is leaves the audience only gradually waking up to the reality of the situation, just as the hero does.
There's a woman on that screen, a military-uniformed individual named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), and she is guarded about what she says, especially with her superior (Jeffrey Wright in full-on boffin mode) looking over her shoulder. But the idea is that Colter must relive the experience on being onboard a train with a bomb detonating on it over and over until he manages to discover a way to find out who set the device - but must he prevent it as well? That's the dilemma, although another dilemma might be how the bomber managed to get such a large explosive into that carriage in the first place without anyone asking him what the hell he was up to.
All that business is the stuff of countless anti-terrorist action thrillers - you could envisage Tony Scott and Denzel Washington taking this on quite comfortably - and does tend to flatten out the suspense, and sadly the would-be tugging at the heartstrings as well. Although there were similarities to Groundhog Day and the television series Quantum Leap noted (listen out for the cutesy Scott Bakula cameo), what Source Code owed most to was 12 Monkeys (rather than La Jetée, perhaps), only it was far more generous about the protagonist finding peace, and as there, here that means through the love of a good woman. When Colter relives the same eight minutes and latches onto the truth, he falls in love (very quickly) with the woman opposite him each time he wakes up, as Ben Ripley's script observes what we would most want to do if we had our second chance (or third, or fourth, or...) would be to find our ideal partner. It's sweet, but not quite strong enough to shake off that hackneyed feeling which belies its hard sci-fi sheen, which isn't as hard as it seems. Music by Chris Bacon.