Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain) is a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Afghanistan who finds himself on a commuter train heading into Chicago with no memory how he got there. Gorgeous Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) is chatting with him as if they’re already acquainted, a situation most of us might play along with, but Gyllenhaal in real life reportedly dumped Taylor Swift for liking him too much, so don’t expect him to act normal. His character seems more interested in trying to figure out what’s going on and why his reflection in the train window seems wrong. Then after eight minutes of this he’s abruptly no longer in the train but rather in something resembling the interior of a space capsule, where an Air Force officer on a television screen (Vera Farmiga, the woman George Clooney had an affair with in Up in the Air) wants to know what he just found out.
When she realizes he has no idea what’s going on, she tries to reorient him: He’s been into an eight-minute simulation of the past that’s somehow based on brain scans of the victims of a terrorist bombing of a train that morning, and his task to gather information critical to stopping a second terrorist attack expected to be far more deadly and likely to occur in a matter of hours. Inside the simulation he has free rein, but nothing he does will alter the actual past. “It’s not time travel.”
He’s sent back again, repeatedly, and gradually he manages to learn more in bits and pieces, both about the attack and about what’s really going on with him, which is some serious stuff.
It’s a well-done mixture of suspense, mystery, and science fiction, with a strong emotional heart and some of the spirit of The Twilight Zone. I recommend it.