Friday, May 15, 2015

Movie Review: Predestination

Directed by: The Spierig Brothers 
Written by: The Spierig Brothers based on the story by Robert A. Heinlein.
Starring: Ethan Hawke (The Barkeep), Sarah Snook (The Unmarried Mother), Noah Taylor (Mr. Robertson).

For the first hour or so, The Spierig Brothers’ Predestination kept me under its strange spell. This is a time travel movie, and like all time travel movies, gets a little ridiculous when trying to explain the mechanics of time travel – but unlike many of them, the film actually works, and does some interesting things with time travel – and its contradictions. It’s an intelligent sci-fi movie, whose focus is more on character than special effects or action. It has a plot that takes one unexpected turn after another – until the final act where it takes one expected turn after another. Not only did the big final reveal – which is played as if it’s supposed to shock the audience, not shock me, but I actually thought they had made it so obvious earlier in the movie that they didn’t need to reveal it at all. I guess I’m a little smarter than the Spierig Brothers expect me to be. So yes, the last act is a pretty big disappointment given the first hour – but I enjoyed the first hour so much, I still think you should see the movie if it at all interests you.

Predestination is the type of movie where plot twists are key so I’ll throw out a SPOILER WARNING here just to be sure. I knew nothing about it going in, and I think that’s the best way to experience the film. I’ll try not to give too much away of the plot – but I need to say something about it, so what I will reveal is this – the movie is basically a two hander between Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. We know from the beginning of the film that he is a “temporal agent” – or the time traveler, and he is searching for the “Fizzle Bomber”, a terrorist responsible for many bombings, none worse than on a day in March 1975 when he set off a bomb that killed 11,000 in New York City. Hawke has been trailing him for years, but blew his last chance. He now has to go on one last mission, before he will be retired. That mission involved him pretending to be a barkeeper and talking to a man in a bar who tells him the story of Jane (Sarah Snook) – a gifted young orphan, and her troubled life. END OF SPOILER WARNING

I liked the look of Predestination, which is set both in the past and the future. It is based on a 1959 short story by Robert A. Heinlein, and one of the interesting things about the adaptation is that they don’t change the dates to be more modern. In this movie, time travel is discovered in 1981 – and you can travel up to 53 years either backwards or forwards in time, and that’s it. The bulk of the movie is set during the 1970s – although at various times the film takes place in every decade between the 1940s and the 1980s – all of which look kind of like our own world in those years, but also slightly futuristic. It’s a good look.

The performance though are what make Predestination work. Hawke is appropriately mysterious and sympathetic here. Yes, this is another of his “paycheck” movies, like Sinister, The Purge, Getaway or his previous film for The Spierig’s, Daybreakers. But just because he’s doing it for a paycheck, so he can continue to do other, more interesting things as well, doesn’t mean he’s in cruise control. He’s quite good here. But it is Snook who delivers what should be a star making performance – without saying too much, I will say that she delivers a complex performance that hits more notes than most actresses do in much more serious roles. I had no idea who she was before this movie – I won’t forget now.

The movie kind of lets Snook and Hawke down though in the final act. The movie took one twist after another in its first hour – few of which I saw coming, and I couldn’t wait to see where they were going with it. The final act however is as predictable as the first hour was unpredictable. Worse, it was really rather a series of stupid twists, which I don’t think make any sense – even if I wanted it to.

Still, the movie has enough to recommend it. It’s an odd movie to be sure – and that’s never a bad thing to me. Yes, the finale is more than a little dumb, but it’s a different type of time travel movie, and I appreciate that, even if I wish the film had found a better way to end it all.

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