Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

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This is about as close as we get to “hard” science fiction these days. I’m not complaining. I liked it, a lot. The premise is that it’s possible to somehow transport a consciousness back in time to the body of someone who is dead, relive his last eight minutes of life … and do something about it. In other words, every time you go back to the same eight minutes, it happens a little differently. In this case, a train has been blown up by a bomb, and the bomber, still alive, plans to detonate a much larger device, one that will wipe out Chicago. Your mission, Jake Gyllenhaal, whether you choose to accept it or not (you have no choice; you’re trapped in a strange, unpleasant place) is to relive those minutes until you find the bomber and relay the information to your mysterious handlers, so they can stop the larger tragedy. This is the Groundhog Day from Hell. And yet it isn’t quite so frustrating, because maybe you can change things. Maybe you can even save the people on the train, maybe there is an alternate universe they can go into, like a train taking another track into the future …

The premise is largely bullshit. We get the obligatory two-minutes of explication—quantum physics, hyperbolic calculus, blah blah blah—and then, thankfully, back to the action, which is engrossing. As for the bullshit … I’ve got news for you. Most science fiction, even the hard stuff, deals in bullshit. Telepathy? Doesn’t exist. Hyperspace? No such thing. Time travel? Don’t make me laugh. And yet great SF stories have been spun about all of them, many, many times. The idea is to make one bullshit postulate and run with it from there, and this movie does a good job of that. But what sets it apart from most thrillers these days, SF or not, is that it’s a story about people. Jake is a good man stuck in a horrible situation. The doomed girl he meets on the doomed train (Michelle Monaghan) is poignant, with a different role to play each time through those damned eight minutes. I’d fall in love with her in eight minutes, too, if I had to do them over and over again. The soldier back in the control room is the wonderful Vera Farmiga, and travels from hard-nosed to compassionate while mostly doing nothing but sitting and staring into a TV screen. Hard assignment for an actress. It’s only 90 minutes long, and accomplishes a great deal in that short time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.