Do we need crimes to make laws? Would we have cops without criminals?
The Ethan Hawke-led Predestination offers up intelligent closed-loop time travel twists and thrills, but also blurs the line between convoluted contrivances and intricate ingenuity.Hawke’s currently on a bit of a roll. A woefully underrated actor – who appears to still, thankfully, always have mentor-director Richard Linklater to fall back on. He made his breakthrough in Dead Poets’ Society, is best remembered for the excellent little sci-fi gem, Gattaca, and the gritty cop drama Training Day, and has somehow managed to eschew Hollywood mainstream for basically his entire career. He’s got half a dozen films planned for release in 2015, including a Western revenge thriller opposite John Travolta, a psychological thriller with Emma Watson, and a crime thriller with Ed Harris, although the most anticipated of his upcoming slate has to be his reunion with Gattaca director Andrew Niccol for the military drone thriller, Good Kill. And the strange thing is? He’s the star of all of them.Kickstarting this impressive run is Predestination, which reunites him with the Spierig Brothers, who previously directed him in the engaging vampire thriller Daybreakers. A complex sci-fi thriller that juggles back and forth in time in a bid to keep you guessing, Predestination unravels a tale about a dedicated time travel cop who takes increasingly perilous jumps through time in a desperate bid to catch a demented bomber before he completes his final masterpiece and kills tens of thousands of people. Before the time jumping completely fries his brain, though, it’s part of his job to recruit somebody to follow in his footsteps; a disillusioned wannabe astronaut who now writes gossip columns for a living. Could this be the protégé that he’s looking for?
Certainly it’s easy to see why they’d call Predestination this year’s Looper, although technically it was actually released in 2014. It’s taken the UK an unusually long time to catch up but the Ethan Hawke-helmed puzzler is actually based on a clever little short story whose central gimmick is founded upon paradoxes and the notion of predestination. This chicken-or-egg scenario is cleverly implemented in both book and film, although the film adds an extra layer to the proceedings, turning a sci-fi mystery drama into more of a sci-fi mystery thriller. Whilst this gives the film some wonderful early-stage tension, it also could be said to be something of the step too far in the direction of convolution. And once the penny drops, boy does this story get convoluted.
Hawke, thankfully, is on fine form as the star of the piece, bringing us a driven, pain, obsessive man who sustains some pretty hefty physical – and undoubtedly psychological – trauma in pursuit of his goal. He’s convincing and compelling throughout, and ably backed-up by another shady turn from the consistently shifty-scientist-type Noah Taylor (Edge of Tomorrow). That said, this is clearly a double-hander, with relative newcomer Sarah Snook sharing – and frequently stealing – the limelight from Hawke.
Ultimately, though, Predestination is so twisty-turny that it threatens to collapse in on itself like a dying star going supernova; succumbing to its own intricately well-developed but inescapably self-sustaining narrative which has played you like a fiddle for almost its entire duration. For as much as you think you can guess what the twists and turns are, you’ll never actually guess them all. And that’s both a good and bad thing; both allowing the time-travel narrative to twist in on itself perfectly like a trip up and down Esher’s stairs, and delivering a succession of reveals that are ultimately so convoluted that you will become more determined to tear the plot than to understand it.
Without the benefit of Interstellar’s three-dimensional representation, it’s hard to escape the linear problems that befall Predestination.
It’s all good and well swallowing complex concepts in theory, but in terms of a movie experience it’s much harder to escape the sheer preposterousness of what you’re forced to accept. For some, there's too much of a hint of Promethian implausibility to the whole thing, but it's a whole lot more forgiveable, and, from a scientific point of view, a hell of a lot more accurate. It just feels ludicrous.
On balance, Predestination is a largely successful effort at intelligent, fairly minimalist sci-fi, which takes a genuinely thoughtful approach to time-travel without resorting to over-the-head Primer tactics or paint-by-numbers exposition. It’s refreshing to be drawn into what is, essentially, such a dialogue-driven affair – with, as stated, Hawke front and centre to help ease you through the complex conundrums. Whether or not you understand what you see may not end up being quite as important as whether or not it sits well with you, but any movie which makes you think as much as Predestination does, makes it - along with Primer and Looper - a cut above.
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