Film (2011). The Mark Gordon Company. Directed by Duncan Jones. Written by Ben Ripley. Cast includes Vera Farmiga, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright. 93 minutes. Colour.
Ripley, earlier known principally for his writing on the Species (1995) sequels, broke out with this spec script about a USAF pilot who wakes up in an iterable Time Loop of a stranger's last eight minutes of life on a doomed train, with orders to find the train's bomber in time to prevent an imminent second attack. Able to interact with and influence events in the memory loop, he becomes obsessed with not merely finding the bomber but saving the victims on the train, while simultaneously dealing with the puzzle of his own returning memories, challenging the agenda of his external handlers, and covertly trying to make contact with his estranged father. The film went through a series of directors before Jones was brought in after impressing with Moon (2009), while Ripley's script had a brief but significant uncredited rewrite by Billy Ray which speeded up the romance element. In early drafts the loop was seventeen minutes long, and the tighter timeline necessarily prioritized narrative urgency over character relationships. A high-concept project with a low-budget reliance on a single set, its strong if meretricious narrative device combines the premises of Philip K Dick's Ubik (1969) and Algis Budrys' Rogue Moon (1960), both favourite uncredited Hollywood staples, though neither appears to have been a direct influence and the film is at root an accelerated action-film version of Groundhog Day (1993), supplemented here with a quantum flim-flam coda to allow the incompatible real world and Virtual Reality to proceed to their respective happy endings in Parallel Worlds. The iterable narrative, multiple endings, and problem-solving task against the clock also reflect continuing Hollywood interest in emulating and thematizing the narrative poetics of Videogames. Well mounted and played, the film nevertheless finds its aspirations to thoughtfulness hobbled by a silly title, some painfully slow thinking on the hero's part, and the sheer contrivedness of the plot apparatus. [NL]
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