Dir. Duncan Jones
Who among us hasn't fantasized about enlivening their daily train commute with the discovery of an insidious plot that only they can identify and stop before it's too late? Who hasn't taken into account their fellow passengers and assigned a threat level far beyond the realistic? In Duncan Jones new film, a follow-up, of sorts, to his debut, Moon, from 2008, one such commuter on a Chicago-bound train really isn't whom he appears to be.
Though the body is of a regular Chicago commuter named Sean, his consciousness actually belongs to a military officer named Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a helicopter pilot enlisted largelyagainst his will into a highly secret military program that enables programmers to project the consciousness of an operative into the body of the recently deceased, precisely eight minutes before they die. As the mumbling physicist (Jeffrey Wright) who developed the program explains it, it's not time travel, per se, rather, it's a way of taking in the full account of the manner in which the person has died. In this case, there's a powerful bomb hidden somewhere on the train, used as a precursor to a much worse dirty bomb the military fears will hit the city of Chicago, unless they can unravel the culprit from his first foray into terrorism. The problem is, in order to gather the necessary info, they have to keep sending Stevens back into train, reliving almost exactly the last eight minutes over and over again before he can make sense of things and ID the mad bomber. The other complication comes into play when he first arrives in the train: He gradually falls in love with, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the friendly female passenger who sits across from him.
With this and his previous film, Jones appears to have a predilection for progressive science gone half-wrong, its reach far exceeding its grasp, which plays nicely into the beginning of the film. Stevens, whose own memory seems distant and cloudy, has to be convinced to conduct his investigation, even as he realizes key pieces of information are being withheld from him by his immediate superior, Goodwin (Vera Famiglia). Gyllenhaal, who, with last year's disastrous Prince of Persia, needed a vehicle to remind people of his genuine leading-man talents, certainly brings the goods this time around. You can't see his performance and doubt his star-turn presence. The film also kicks around a few interesting ideas in the course of things but it's a great many balls to have to keep in the air, and the script, penned by Ben Ripley, gets less successful as it progresses from its dynamite premise. It also doesn't do director Jones any favors when it turns soft and pulpy at the end, a too-easy cop out for a film that began with a significant edginess. It has enough to keep you entertained, but, like a long daily commute on a far too predictable train, it's not enough to be terribly memorable.