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In what is ultimately a well-paced, intriguing thriller, co-stars Ethan Hunt and Sarah Snook deliver solid performances while (somewhat) addressing issues faced by societally pre-determined gender roles. While certainly not providing any answers to the problems faced by the transgender community, Predestination is still an intelligent and carefully-planned sci-fi adventure, whose maze-like narrative provides a one-time journey into the unknown.
“What if I could put him in front of you? The man that ruined your life. If I could guarantee you’d get away with it, would you do it?” This question, spoken in the darkness by an unnamed agent, of an unknown agency, lies at the heart of Predestination. This simple line of dialogue (spoken by Ethan Hunt) unveils the motivations of the film’s characters, and provides a central core around which the circuitous plot weaves itself. A group of time manipulating operatives use devices, known as a coordinate transformer field kit, to track down criminals through time, thus bringing an end to all crime – both past and future. When the agency’s star agent, an anonymous operative played by Ethan Hunt, is mutilated by the mysterious “Fizzle Bomber,” his life, along with his appearance, become distinctly altered. Sent into the field for one last, all-important, mission, the agent jumps back to the 1970’s New York, in a crusty basement bar. Betting a stranger a bottle of whiskey against the “greatest story ever told,” the agent’s conversation with a mysterious patron quickly becomes much more than casual conversation. Leading this “John Doe” into a world of time-traveling espionage, the bartending agent stays cool and collected while shattering his new friend’s reality.
The Spierig Brothers (Michael and Peter) adapted Predestination from a novel, All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein. The Spierigs do a very commendable job of keeping the convoluted narrative organized, without audience handholding or gratuitous exposition. Aided by cinematographer Ben Nott, production designer Matthew Putland, and costume designer Wendy Cork, the Spierig’s effortlessly (with a bit of extra help from a neat watch) jump from decade to decade. The “jumping,” too, becomes less and less an object of wonder as the film wears on, marked only by its telltale burst of wind towards the end. Much of the second act is told in the form of a flashback, and as John’s story comes to a conclusion, we finally get to fully explore his past. Jumping through these well-defined eras in John’s life, the Spierigs are seemingly always hinting at greater forces at work.
Most of the Spierig Brothers’ film revolves around this unknown connection between characters and events. Shadowy figures are shown, usually wearing a taupe overcoat and hat, and faces stay hidden until a “grand” final reveal. This is where the flimsily hidden “surprises” dotting the inner-workings of the Spierig’s narrative, begin to show. When the agent meets John for the first time, he is confused by the storyteller’s pronoun choice, yet as an audience member, it is seemingly impossible not to have presupposed this information. An absolutely understandable dud for anyone who knows the top-billed actors, this flop is entirely forgivable – yet the rest of the Spierig’s film contains bust after bust of ruined conceits. So many questions are raised in John’s story, but all are answered (by anyone paying attention) far before they are “revealed.” Like a friend excited to share a month-old viral video, Predestination becomes instantly deflated as the audience has seen the punch line countless times.
Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook both give admirable performances as the hapless time travelers; each merely a puppet in a larger governmental conspiracy. Snook truly shines in the myriad of roles and forms she takes throughout the film. A brave and unflinching portrayal of a mistreated orphan and mother, Snook gives her best performance of 2014. While the same cannot be said about Hawke (Boyhood was one hell of a film), he still offers up a solid portrayal of the unnamed agent, undeterred by his monumental objective, and single-mindedly focused on the task at hand. Unshaken by his immense powers over time and space, Hawke is much like any dejected agent in an agency-based thriller: cold to everything but his nearly unobtainable goal.
Alongside Edge of Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat, Predestination is one of the most interesting sci-fi thrillers of the year (in which it was made). While the plot has the tendency to spoil itself, the Spierig Brother’s film is a fresh and unique addition to the genre. A tautly strung mental workout, Predestination will likely be one of the top sci-fi films of 2015.