Readers who've encountered previous posts on this blog would know it, but for the record I'm coming into this film having read the screenplay. Which means I know how the story goes and how it ends (well, it was a few years ago so thankfully I don't remember everything), so my input is more in terms of how every cast and crew member after the writer interpreted the film onto the screen.
Upon hearing the premise, some people I know instinctively referred to Vantage Point as a comparison. Which immediately sounded false to me. I felt Vantage Point was a good idea but it was also severely repetitive, despite the fact that we learn new information at every new chapter that shows the events from a different character's POV. Source Code, however, marries that replaying with the central character's dilemma and frustrations. Capt. Colter Stevens has to solve a massacre mystery by being inserted into the source code multiple times, and each time he has a limited 8 minutes to discover new information, but unlike Groundhog Day (which probably a lot of Malaysians didn't see so that reference didn't pop up so much around me here) he doesn't have a thousand years to find the answer. He has just hours, if that.
This is the kind of story I myself love to write, not just the almost-realistic sci-fi stuff and placing characters in such situations and seeing how that plays out, but also the way in which the story delivers information to the audience: slowly, bit by bit, not all at once. Throw the audience headlong into an unfamiliar situation without any explanation, thus confusing them, but slowly let them catch on to facts and info, and they learn as the protagonist(s) learn.
At 93 minutes, Source Code's pacing is just nice: tautly edited but with breathing space in between, and not annoying when it cuts back to the beginning of Colter's entry into the source code which necessarily begins in the same place every time (because it knows when to dispense with showing the whole thing again and just cuts to quick montages).
The denouement is a nice touch and, if I remember correctly, wasn't in the draft of the screenplay I read. It is also, again, a gentle reminder of the effectiveness of setups and payoffs.
The movie begins with a newly-designed film technique that we'll call infinite zoom. Okay, the camera can do one of two things: it can zoom, or it can dolly in ... or it can do both at the same time, but each of those camera movements have different effects. Now, you can have your camera on a track and keep pushing in, and that'll be a kind of long-tracking shot ... possibly a boring one. What they did here is to have the camera zoom in, and keep zooming, and keep zooming, for hundreds of yards ...
Read here on how they use visual effects to make this technique work. It's a pretty nifty trick, and it's an effect that does something to your visual perception, feeling like it's too much to take in, which ties in to the title. (It'd be nicer if the opening credits weren't so huge ... in fact, it'd be nicer if they weren't there at all.)
The movie posits a drug that can increase human brain power orders of magnitude higher than most people. Such a premise is what we would call a high concept, and it's one that can very easily be wasted if it lands on the hands of an apathetic Hollywood screenwriter. I mean, you write in a smart character, and that character must do or say things that are mindblowing, right? Well, yes and no. A smart person isn't all wise, and sometimes misses things; but quite often what Hollywood offers is a so-called smart protagonist who is suddenly all stupid and making bad choices during most of Act II that his smart brain would have sounded warning bells to if he really is that smart (just so that he can learn a lesson about humility, or how he needs to pay more attention to loved ones, etc).
But of course, the major theme in this movie is the side effects brought about by the drug – and not just physiological effects. As with most drugs, at first the side effects are not apparent. And then they hit, and then you see what that does to the character. And that is simply an illustration of the equilibrium-tending nature of reality. (On the other hand, there's entropy ...) As King Philip says in the movie Alexander, "No man or woman can be too powerful or too beautiful without disaster befalling." And the consequences on Eddie's life and the lives of those around him are so well-written that in some cases they're essentially plot twists; in other words, the film wasn't predictable and kept my attention throughout the film.
I'll say it: the Academy continues to stubbornly neglect science fiction films, but if it didn't, this one deserves a spot among the Oscar nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay.
There are lots of stylish camera and editing techniques lavished on the film, which seems to be trying very hard to get the audience to experience what Eddie is experiencing, but without being too gimmicky to the point of jolting them off the trajectory of the story. (Applied to another film they probably are gimmicky.) Come to think of it, the film deserves an Oscar nomination for Editing as well.
A well-paced, well-made film. It'll be interesting to see whether I like it as much at the end of the year.