In this, the most recent remake of Groundhog Day, the central role is played by Jake Gyllenhaal (one of the few major stars who I still have to look up to spell correctly). He’s Colter Stevens, a US military helicopter pilot who crashes in Afghanistan, and wakes up… on a train to Chicago. He has a pretty girl thanking him for his advice, coffee spilled on his shoe, and the reflection in the mirror of another man. Then, eight minutes later, the train blows up and he’s inside a creepy little capsule, strapped to a chair, talking to another Army captain, a woman, who is asking about the bomber.
My wife, after we saw the film, pointed out what I didn’t even notice. By putting the main character in as much confusion as the audience about what’s happening, the other characters are naturally forced to start explaining things to him, and so, us as well. The concept of shoving Colter’s consciousness into the brain of this random history teacher on a doomed commuter train is odd, but they throw enough reasonable jargon at you that you believe it.
Unlike Groundhog Day, though, Colter learns all too well what he needs to do. FIND THE BOMBER. Which isn’t that easy, when you only have eight minutes each go around, and you’re constantly being distracted by Michelle Monaghan (another difficult spelling) making goo goo eyes at you.
Okay, I sound like I’m glibly dismissing the romantic subplot, but it’s actually kind of sweet. You really do want Colter to find a way around his whole dilemma of not really being there to let these two kids be together. That alone is a bit of movie-making sleight of hand, but they pull it off.
There are a couple of other excellent performances. Vera Farmiga is the aforementioned captain, who is clearly fighting an internal war between duty to country, and her fondness for Colter. Jeffrey Wright plays the supergenius guy running the “source code” program. He’s a complex guy. (We know this because he has a limp and a cane.)
The movie balances the sci-fi weirdness with some good character work and an overall enjoyable Hitchcockian vibe. I liked it.