– Summary –
Director : The Spierig Brothers
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Madeline West, Christopher Kirby, Freya Stafford, Jim Knobeloch, Christopher Stollery, Tyler Coppin, Rob Jenkins
Approx Running Time : 97 Minutes
Synopsis: An time traveling government agent and a women’s advice column writer team up to stop a terrorist bomber from killing thousands.
What we think : At last – a thinking person’s sci-fi time travel film that doesn’t involve Bruce Willis. Predestination is captivating in nearly every regard, from its noir flavoring and superb recreation of the various time periods within the film, to the seductive, brain-bending plot twists (a couple of which I guessed early, but was still surprised at when they happened), and the performance of Sarah Snook in the pivotal role of Jane. The effluvium of the genre’s cliches seem to wash away as the Spierig brothers craft one of the more intelligent, thought provoking films of this kind in recent memory. Definitely worth a look.
Whatever you do, don’t look away.
Predestination is a film you’re best going into cold. The film is based on a short story by Robert A Heinlein entitled –All You Zombies-, and according to the internet Predestination follows that fairly closely (or as closely as it can), so if you’ve read that tale then you’ll probably know what’s going to happen; for the rest of us, if you want a nice surprise in your film watching pursuit, go into this one knowing nothing other than that it’s going to twist your brain. As such, this review will be relatively short, in order to remain as spoiler-free as possible. I’m not even going to recount the basic plot, because the surprises in this film are best served knowing not even that much. What I will tell you is that Ethan Hawke plays a time traveling Federal Agent, who is pursuing the terrorist known as “The Fizzle Bomber” (a lame name which is acknowledged in the film!), when he meets a writer of women’s problems in a local tabloid magazine. The films primary setting is the mid-70’s, so the majority of the movie is retro-set shenanigans, with a hard focus on character rather than the “science fiction” elements. You can probably gather by my enthusiastic opening that I really enjoyed Predestination, so it’s hardly a spoiler to say that it is a terrific film – it’s not perfect, but it is damn clever and entertaining – but I’ll continue my breathless enthusiasm after the jump.
Audiences aren’t really phased with quality intelligent science fictions. Sure, they might not be the most commercial films made these days (most successful films have at least several explosions, or focus on whatever dazzling visual effects might be on show); this is a shame, because Predestination deserves a far wider audience than will ever truly appreciate it. For the uninitiated, the Spierig Brothers are an Aussie duo best known for their previous collaboration with Ethan Hawke, Daybreakers, a terrific vampire flick that tickled the grey matter at the same time as it shocked and thrilled with visceral action. Re-teaming with Hawke for Predestination, the Spierig’s have again crafted a film of layered, nuanced intelligence, founded on Heinlein’s short story, that does an even better job of taking a genre premise and giving it fresh eyes.
The labyrinthine story takes some getting used to – the opening gunfight is resolutely frigid and clinical, although initially we’re not sure if it’s a flashback, flashforward, or something else entirely. Following the opening scene, the film then transports us to the main location, a 1970’s bar where Hawke’s character, later revealed to be a time traveling agent who sets about righting wrongs (apparently), meets a writer who recounts the tale of his youth, and the events leading him to be at the bar. Much of the “story” told by the writer is delivered in segmented flashback, until we catch up to the “present” and the film lurches into its gasp-assured plot twitches. Yeah, this film will have you scratching your head, trying to guess who’s doing what, where, and how, and many of the Big Reveals are solidly delivered and will make you either cringe or cry out. That is, unless you already know the story, in which case much of Predestination is about the destination, not the journey.
Key elements of the film to touch on: the cast – Ethan Hawke is solid, in a role that demands little emotional range until the very end. Sarah Snook in the pivotal role of Jane, who is led a merry dance by Hawke’s character, is easily the best thing about this movie, in what I can only imagine will be a career defining breakout role for her. She carries both the emotional range and performance power to land the film’s more shocking moments with a truth and believability that makes everyone around her rise to their best efforts. Noah Taylor slides his way through an undemanding “Cigarette Smoking Man” type role, as Hawke’s boss, but he’s efficient and somewhat creepy at times, giving the story a little more width with its fairly small focus.
The production design is superb. At all times, I believed I was inside the time periods depicted – from the 1940’s orphanage, to the 60’s collegiate years, to the 70’s yellow-stained ubiquitous color range, to the stainless-steel 80’s style; Predestination is sublimely produced and really well lit. DP Ben Nott gives the film a slick, almost ethereal glow at times, rooting the “reminiscence” sequences in a dreamlike state, while keeping the “present” moments sharper and more defined by shadow. Kudos to all involved in the film’s look. But it’s the effortless direction from the Spierig’s which is the glue holding this thing together. As slowly as the plot unravels through retelling, the assured handling of the characters and the settings, thanks to crafty editing and some low-fi visual effects that are as effective as they are convincing, is superb. The story never loses focus, never becomes fattened by over-plotting, and remains single-minded throughout the 90-odd minutes it takes to tell. It’s a film deserving – nay, requiring – your attention. Miss a minute, and you might miss the entire thing.
Predestination is exquisitely plotted, deftly acted (again, Sarah Snook remains the high point here for mine) and rippingly directed in a l0w-key, methodical manner by Peter and Michael Spierig. if you get the chance to go into it cold, this will make the deviations in the plot all that much more shocking and confronting. Some of the themes within the film actually made me cringe, but they’re handled with conservative restraint by the film-makers. I’ve seen enough Doctor Who to take some guesses at where the plot was going to go (and genre fans will probably guess some of the plot twists well before they happen) but this did in no way reduce my enjoyment of where this film went. If I had any criticism of the film at all, it’s that I’d have preferred the cast roster to be somewhat expanded to hide the plot twists a little better, but that’s a personal thing and shouldn’t be in any way taken as poor decision making by the directors. Frankly, if more sci-fi films were of this standard, the world would be a better place. Predestination is a terrific film that will make you think, give you some genuine surprises, and thoroughly entertain as it does so.
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