Rating: 4 out of 5
Sharply intelligent and also viscerally entertaining, this pacey "Groundhog Day meets the War on Terror" thriller keeps us (and the characters) guessing where it might go next. And after the terrific Moon, director Jones shows that he's ready for the big league.
Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan who wakes up into a perplexing new mission: he's on a commuter train heading into Chicago with a woman, Christina (Monaghan), who keeps calling him Sean. Then a huge explosion tears the train apart and he wakes up in another reality, where an officer named Goodwin (Farmiga) is talking to him, asking questions and ultimately sending him back into the train to relive the same eight minutes and find the bomber. Over the next several cycles, Colter makes some startling discoveries.
Jones and screenwriter Ripley tell this story completely from Colter's perspective, which means that we know only as much as he knows. So the fast-moving plot reveals itself as it goes along, drawing us deeper into the mystery. And as the emotional stakes grow, we are pulled in even further, so things become genuinely moving without being sentimental. It's a remarkable balancing act, but Jones pulls it off perfectly, appealing both to our brains and our hearts.
With its smart, layered-reality premise, the film's closest comparison is perhaps Inception, and it's just as exhilarating to watch, as we have to pay close attention to keep up with the plot wrinkles and implications in order to fully understand what's at stake. Also similar is the fact that it's not as complicated to follow as it seems; indeed, the characters themselves aren't quite clear about everything that's happening, including Goodwin and her woolly headed boss (Wright).
Gyllenhaal is terrific as the guy struggling to make sense out of something unthinkable, while the superb Farmiga and Monaghan add both wit and pathos. And with its incendiary premise, complete with quietly provocative explorations of racial profiling and anti-terrorism operations, the film feels eerily relevant as it gets increasingly frantic. So we fully understand the connection when it distils beautifully - and very cleverly - in a punchy reminder to live in the moment.
Facts and Figures
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st April 2011
Box Office USA: $54.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $121.5M
Distributed by: Summit Entertainment
Production compaines: The Mark Gordon Company, Vendome Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 223 Rotten: 20
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Duncan Jones
Screenwriter: Ben Ripley
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens, Michelle Monaghan as Christina Warren, Vera Farmiga as Colleen Goodwin, Russell Peters as Max Denoff, Joe Cobden as Lab Technician, Michael Arden as Derek Frost, Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Rutledge, Cas Anvar as Hazmi, Brent Skagford as George Troxel, Craig Thomas (II) as Gold Watch Executive, Gordon Masten as Conductor