Predestination is one of those festival films that you have no idea exists but, when you finally see it, you wonder where it’s been your entire life. I’m not the biggest time travel movie fan, nor do I really enjoy science fiction in general, but Predestination uses its premise to rise above the usual trappings of the genre and creates a film which is a lot smarter than I initially gave it credit for.
I mean, it was pitched to me as “Minority Report with Ethan Hawke” and it’s much, much better than that.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2014. It is being reposted to coincide with the film’s wide release.]
Director: Michael and Peter Spierig
Release Date: January 9th, 2015
An adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies,” Predestination stars Ethan Hawke as a Temporal Police Officer who’s assigned to his final mission after a previous mission leaves him with a reconfigured face. His one regret as an officer is his failure to catch the Fizzle Bomber, a notoriously evasive criminal whose bombs have killed countless people. As the officer begins his last mission, he meets a mysterious stranger (Sarah Snook) who tells the officer of his childhood troubles. And you can probably tell from the synopsis that when someone says Predestination is just Minority Report, they’re looking at the bare minimum. Ethan Hawke’s occupation as a time cop is where the similarities end. Predestination is much more thoughtful than Minority Report could ever hope to be.
Unfortunately if you’ve read Heinlein’s original short, then you know the direction of the story. It’s pretty much a direct adaptation, but with added flair for the screen version. The plot itself is fantastic. It’s a quietly drawn out mystery which rewards the viewer when the viewer guesses something correctly. It’s so tightly wound if one fact, or subject was misplaced or explained incorrectly, the entire thing would unravel. While that tightness works to the film’s benefit, it’s also a huge detriment to the enjoyment of the film. There’s never any relaxation period, no time to absorb the information given before being presented with copious amounts of new info. Thank goodness the cast holds it together.
You know, I was initially worried for Predestination when I heard it was being directed by the Spierig brothers. Their last notable work, Daybreakers (about the futuristic society of vampires), also had a really neat concept idea but failed in the execution. But I’ll hand it to them, they really know how to pick the cast. While Ethan Hawke might be top billed, he’s not the central star. That honor goes to relative newcomer, Sara Snook. Snook delivers a powerful performance as the mysterious Jane. As she begins to detail the tragic events of her life, her emotional resonance carries the film even when it begins to derail into nonsense. Her narration is given the appropriate amount of emotional weight, and the crazy things she’s put through may not have been believable if Snook didn’t sell it so well.
You may have noticed that as I’m trying to discuss interesting aspects of the film, I’m purposefully trying to be as vague as possible. Although you’ll know what happens in Predestination if you’ve read the original short, the majority of the mystery reveals are much better if you haven’t had them spoiled for you. But the weird thing about these reveals is chances are you’ll figure it out before the film gets to grandstand them. While some of the reveals are completely out of left field, and therefore unpredictable, some of them fail to land because they’re so drawn out you’ve put the pieces of the puzzle together yourself. So when the film finally gets to the matter at hand, you’re left with a period of staleness. But at least Ethan Hawke is great. He really nails his part also. Especially toward the end when he’s so out of character, it works.
While Predestination is a clever mystery, it takes a while to unfurl. It’s like a seductive dance that goes on for so long, it loses its original allure. But when given the time to breathe, and there’s an appropriate amount of time given to fleshing out the futuristic world in which Jane and John live, it’s wonderful.
Predestination could’ve fallen apart miserably. But because it has a great central cast, unique twist on time travel, and interesting mystery, greatness is inevitable.