Predestination (2014)

Sometimes…the wait is worth it. I’ve been meaning to get to this flick for a good while now, ever since I first heard about it during it’s initial, woefully-small theatrical release in the Way Back of 2014. I’ve always like Ethan Hawke, going back to his first-ever movie role in a childhood favorite of mine, ‘Explorers’ (1985). Very recently I stumbled across a Blu ray copy of 2009’s ‘Daybreakers’, a cool futuristic vampire flick that was actually more entertaining that I think it had any right to be and as a result of revisiting that movie in glorious High Definition, was reminded of THIS movie’s existence. ‘Daybreakers’ was the first film that Hawke did with Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig; their second after their gory and over-the-top meteor-creates-zombies debut flick from 2003, ‘Undead’. ‘Undead’ I remember not being overly blown away by, but ‘Daybreakers’ was a slick and competently-crafted genre film that allowed Ethan Hawke to inhabit another of his trademark ‘damaged-but-compelling’ characters. So…when I heard that he’d be teaming up again with The Spierig Brothers to take on the Time-Travel genre…I was intrigued. That being said, I really didn’t know what to expect with this one, as it initially seemed to garner so little notice, despite strong reviews out of the gate. As a result of this, there wasn’t enough in-my-face media to steer toward a clear idea of the plot. And sometimes that’s a good thing.
Based on a story by Robert A. Heinlein called ‘All You Zombies’, the film opens with a shadowy character attempting to defuse a time-bomb using a strange piece of futuristic-looking tech, in what looks like a boiler room. Judging from the characters antiquated clothing style, it would certainly seem that we were about 40-50 years in the past, but the equipment in use suggests otherwise. After a sudden gun-fight with another mysterious figure in the shadows, the bomb explodes seconds before neutralization, horribly disfiguring the first figure and nearly killing him. We cut to a later date, where we see this character undergoing a lengthy rehabilitation period, including extensive reconstructive surgery. Over time, this individual morphs into Ethan Hawke and we find out some key pieces of information about him. He’s what is known as a Temporal Agent, essentially a Time Cop. He’s tasked by the agency he works for to jump back and forth through a 50 year period to track down and capture / kill large-scale criminals and stop their large-scale crimes. Upon reaching his Final Mission before retirement, we see Hawke preparing to infiltrate the 1970’s, to go after the one target that’s always eluded him. Then…we’re in a dingy little ‘watering hole’ in New York City, circa 1970. We see a strange-looking man enter and make his way to the bar, where ‘The Barkeep’ (Ethan Hawke) is keeping the booze flowing. A conversation ensues…and soon a story about a little orphaned girl, born different, is unspooled for him from the odd bar customer ‘John’. The story details a tragic life of conflict and confusion, and culminates with the hate-fueled blaming of a certain man in a certain past. ‘The Barkeep’ suddenly (and darkly) offers to put ‘John’ before this reviled person, to give the chance to exact lethal revenge for the ruining of ‘John’s life. And from there…shit gets weird.
I can’t really say much more about the clever plot, lest I ruin the impact of the ‘twists’. The directions that this story goes in are, in my humble opinion, ballsy and unexpected…and they left me with an impressed / disturbed smile plastered across my pleasantly interesting-looking mug. Time-Travel stories are almost always problematic if you make half an effort to break them down, and this one is probably no different, but I really liked the manner with which the story played out. There was a ‘patience’ to it and it felt like The Spierig Brothers were really coming into their own as filmmakers on this third cinematic effort of theirs.
Visually-speaking, I was very much reminded of the work of Alex Proyas (‘The Crow’) and David Fincher (‘The Game’) and that…is a damn good thing! The camera work was slick, with nicely-composed framing and a color-palette that was dynamic and eye-catching. Good contrast between colors that complimented the attractive use of depth and lighting in the shots. From a visual stance, I’m genuinely curious to see what The Brothers Spierig come up with next, based on this and ‘Daybreakers’…and the clear evidence that they’re learning to hone their craft with each subsequent flick.
The Acting is solid, with Ethan Hawke naturally leading the charge with his decidedly ‘grey’ character of ‘The Barkeep’. There was a scene in the 3rd Act which demonstrated his solid acting range, in which his character encounters someone VERY familiar to himself and a situation with potentially dire consequences arises as a result. Everyone else coming in as Supporting Characters turns in an intriguing and nuanced performances, especially an Australian actress that I was previously unfamiliar with named Sarah Snook and rodent-looking English actor Noah Taylor (‘Edge of Tomorrow’).
The music score, by Peter Spierig himself, was very well composed and fit the visuals and narrative like an atmospheric glove.
All in all, ‘Predestination’ was well worth the wait and fit nicely into a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s a clever and brave take on a familiar style of science fiction story that managed to surprise and impress me with its visuals, its acting and its twists. It’s an intriguing film that doesn’t rely on tons of sex and violence to entertain the viewer, despite some admittedly sordid material popping up in the narrative. Instead, The Script seems not to treat the audience like idiots, spoon-feeding tons of dazzling effects and hyper-kinetic edits to keep interests peaked, but instead with a patiently-told story that had a curious undercurrent of ‘haunted emotion’ just below the surface. When it’s all said and done, there’s something genuinely creepy about the end result of this story, and I liked that because it challenged my expectations and left some answers up for me to decide. I can EASILY recommend ‘Predestination’ for anyone who likes a well-crafted genre movie that will take them on a journey that will surprise and maybe unsettle them just a little. Check it out. It didn’t get the theatrical release that it deserved…so it now deserves and needs the attention of an intelligent audience that can seek it out on their own; an audience that wants a bit more than just the latest intellectually-devoid Michael Bay / McG-style science fiction / action bullshit.

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