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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 36.36%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"A time-travel movie with a tricky knot and a great heart at its center."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: If they have any ambition at all, both good and bad time-travel movies make the viewer's head hurt a little bit thinking about how the plot fits together; the good ones make the us like it. By that reckoning, I'm putting "Predestination" in the "good" category - good enough, in fact, that I'm loath to try to explain why I like it to anyone who hasn't seen it.

It starts out in a way that is obviously setting things up - a "temporal agent" badly burned in an attempt to capture "The Fizzle Bomber" in 1975 New York before an explosion that kills thousands; when he emerges from reconstructive surgery, he has a new face and is sent back for one final mission by his boss (Noah Taylor). It initially involves tending bar when a man comes in with a hell of a story about an orphan girl (Sarah Snook) who applied for a corporate space program in 1963 only to have her heart broken. The bartender (Ethan Hawke) says to wait, because it's about to get stranger.

The film is written and directed by Michael & Peter Spierig from a short story by Robert A. Heinlein (renamed because modern audiences would be disappointed by the lack of the living dead), and part of what makes it an interesting surprise, if initially a little difficult to get used to, is that it retains more of the feel of a "Golden Age of Science Fiction" story than most. Think of all the Philip K. Dick stories that have had one very basic idea plucked from them and then "adapted" into loud action movies. That doesn't happen here; the bar story being related becomes the spine and heart of the film, with a bit of action at either end, rather than an explanatory flashback. It feels like a Heinlein story, not just the events from one.

It also kind of looks like one, as the Spierigs opt not to move it into the present or future, but keep its mid-century setting, mostly spanning 1947 to 1975, with time-travel "headquarters" in 1985. Its private space program is therefore an anachronism, but one filled with cool design that certainly looks like it jumped right out of a contemporary magazine's illustrations. The brothers have always had an eye for that sort of thing - their last movie, Daybreakers, was mostly fun for its visual world-building - but working on a smaller budget, they deliver a great period sci-fi feel. Their team also delivers some excellent make-up effects when there's really no room for messing them up.

For such a limited, grounded sort of science fiction movie, the cast has got to do their job,and they deliver. Ethan Hawke, who starred in Daybreakers, gets top billing and does his job well enough - from the very beginning, he's haunted and wounded, but also somewhat playful - as a time traveler, he knows how it's all going to play out and can be a bit sly, and he has a lot of fun with how the tables are turned in the end without undercutting the drama of it. It's Sarah Snook that folks will rave about coming out of the movie, though, for many reasons. Dealing with time travel, we get to see a lot of her scenes (at least) twice - once as a story, and once in real time - and the subtly different spin she puts on each is eye catching, as moments that were previously seen filtered through a certain amount of distance, regret, and pity pop with vibrancy later on. The story puts Jane through the wringer, but Snook rises to every challenge that the filmmakers lay on her, including ones that would make the film laughable if she didn't rise to them.

Rise to them she does, though, and the Spierigs take full advantage. Predestination is a puzzle box of a movie that can occasionally get a little methodical in how it aligns its pieces - there are moments where Hawke's character is just reminding the audience of how they line up - but it's a good one; in a crowded theater, you'll hear gasps and giggles as bits click into place. Underneath, though, it's a surprisingly sensitive story of love and self-identification that most of us can only approach from a metaphorical place, but which the filmmakers have the confidence to put front and center.

I kind of wish I could say more; despite some moments of shakiness, this is a darn good movie that I fear won't get seen due to general weirdness or audience backlash from getting something rather different than the explosions the synopsis or trailer will hint at. With any good luck, that won't happen, because the more I think about "Predestination", the more I like it; it's a very fine example of an sf classic adapted well enough to feel very modern as well.

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originally posted: 07/26/14 01:03:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/09/20 Britney Spears into pruning hooks About as good a movie adaptation as possible for such a convoluted time travel story. 4 stars
7/20/18 Langano Flawed but still an interesting ride. 4 stars
3/20/15 Charles Burgess Terrific film, couldn't be more pleased 5 stars
1/09/15 Chris Solid movie. One of the better time travel movies made. 4 stars
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  09-Jan-2015 (R)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2015


  DVD: 10-Feb-2015

Directed by
  Michael Spierig
  Peter Spierig

Written by
  Michael Spierig
  Peter Spierig

  Ethan Hawke
  Sarah Snook
  Noah Taylor

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