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Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes with a jolt to find himself on a commuter train heading into Chicago. Although the other passengers all seem to know him, he has absolutely no idea where, or even who, he is. The last thing Colter remembers is flying a helicopter mission in Iraq, but here he is in someone else's life going through someone else's morning commute. Before he can do anything, an express train zooms by on the opposite track and a bomb explodes, seemingly killing Colter and all the other passengers.
Colter awakes in an isolation chamber, strapped to a seat, and wearing his military flight suit. He still has no idea what's happening, except that he's being spoken to by mission controller Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who calmly asks him, "Who planted the bomb?" He learns he's a part of a secret operation called "Beleaguered Castle," but before he can progress any further, Goodwin starts up the machinery and suddenly Colter is back on the train, at exactly the same time he first appeared there, once again speeding through Chicago with the same group of commuters and once again after eight minutes the bomb explodes. Each time he doesn't solve the mystery, he is taken back to re-live the same eight minutes. Living the explosion over and over, Colter must uncover the identity of the bomber, while also figuring out what the alternative universe of "Beleaguered Castle" is.