Review in a Hurry: It's Groundhog Day at Ground Zero, as Jake Gyllenhaal has to keep reliving the last eight minutes of a bomb victim's life, over and over, until he's able to identify the terrorist responsible. As he did in his acclaimed debut film Moon, director Duncan Jones explores science-fiction ideas of identity and surrogate human bodies, but in adding a more suspense-driven, ticking-clock premise, he has made a thriller with much broader appeal.
The Bigger Picture: War veteran Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) suddenly finds himself on a train, seeing a reflection he doesn't recognize in the window and being addressed by a very pretty woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who clearly believes him to be somebody else. Before he can get his bearings, however, the train explodes, seemingly killing everyone aboard.
Except Stevens, who now finds himself inside some kind of mechanical pod, getting instructions from a woman in uniform (Vera Farmiga) on a video monitor. Long story short: He just entered the residual final memories of somebody else and is going to do so again and again until he can learn who's responsible for the explosion. This isn't merely an academic exercise: The perpetrator has announced plans for another, bigger attack that is imminent.
Back goes Stevens, repeatedly, but being a regular, red-blooded, all-American male, he soon finds that the bomb isn't the only thing to pay attention to—the continued conversations with Christina are causing him to fall in love. And even though he has been advised that the memory he's in is nothing but ethereal "source code," with an outcome that cannot be changed because it already happened, he reckons there must be a way to save her.
The plot sometimes feels like it's doubling back on itself one to many times—you may wish you could call a time-out and get an instant replay, just to calculate whether or not each subsequent revelation actually makes sense in context. Overall, it seems to, but it may take repeat viewings just to be sure. And much to the credit of director Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley (Species III and IV), what appears to be an obviously telegraphed twist turns out to be a mere appetizer for the actual climax.
Gyllenhaal has leaped through doomed time paradoxes before as Donnie Darko, and Monagahan first got our attention as the lovely lady falling for a potentially crazy person in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang...both have been suitably prepared to be appealing here. Jeffrey Wright is a lot of fun as a dubious authority figure, and Farmiga is nicely ambiguous in her presentation. But it's the action elements that matter most, and on that level the movie delivers, even if you're not quite sure of every single plot detail.
The 180—a Second Opinion: It'd be spoiling to say exactly how...but certain story elements feel a tad sanitized by the PC police.