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Predestination

Review by: 
A.J. MacReady
Release Date: 
2014
Studio: 
Sony
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
A
Aspect Ratio: 
2.40:1
Directed by: 
The Spierig Brothers
Cast: 
Ethan Hawke
Sarah Snook
Noah Taylor
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
3
Bottom Line: 
4
Video: 
Click to Play

Time travel stories, be they told in novels or films, always seem to hold a certain fascination for people. You'd have to assume that would be due to the fact that, being human, there's not a single one of us walking the earth that doesn't have deep regrets of some sort that haunt us throughout our lives. What if we could change it? What if we could undo that ONE thing, that one mistake, the words left unsaid, the path not taken...would it change our lives for the better? Most of us must feel that way on some level, and stories where the characters are able to do just that offer a very strong form of wish fulfillment for us. Especially those who can't let go of the past for fear that a misstep has irrevocably damaged their future.

Australian twin brothers Peter and Michael Spierig, adapting Robert A. Heinlein's classic short story "-All You Zombies-," have made what could be viewed as the ultimate in time travel movies, where the inherent paradox at the heart of the phenomenon is picked over and taken apart and put back together again, over and over throughout the running time.

This is Predestination, and it is without a doubt one of the finest films ever to deal with this particular science fiction subgenre that this reviewer has ever seen. By turns philisophical, suspenseful, melancholy, horrifying, uplifting, and at all times mind-bending, it's not a stretch to call it a very specific sort of masterpiece. It moved me and made me think; it pulled me out of my comfort zone and slapped my brain around before tossing it out the window of a train on an infinity-8 track.

The story (which sticks amazingly close to the source material by Heinlein) concerns a man (Ethan Hawke, ridiculously good) who is what is known as a Temporal Agent -- simply put, he works for a shadowy government agency that uses time travel to prevent horrible things from happening throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The Agent is after a domestic terrorist known as the Fizzle Bomber (the ludicrousness of the moniker is remarked upon by several of the characters) who will be responsible for, among other attacks, one specific bombing that will claim the lives of over 10,000 people. As the story proper gets underway, the Agent is undercover as a bartender in mid-1970's New York, and one night strikes up a conversation with a patron, soon discovered to be a writer of confessional stories who goes by the name The Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook). This cynical, bitter man bets the Agent that, for a bottle of whiskey, he'll spin the best story anyone's ever heard. The wager is accepted, and it's here that the story truly kicks into gear as the man begins his tale with "When I was a little girl..." and let me tell you -- he earns that bottle honestly.

I'm rather loath to go into any deeper details regarding the plot, story or characters, honestly, because -- if you haven't read the original Heinlein -- part of the joy is the seemingly random (it's not) turns of the tale as it unfolds, twisting and curving back in on itself, sometimes making you think the filmmakers are making it up as they go along or merely providing filler (they are most definitely not). Other times it feels as if they are fucking with your head just to do so (that is a strong possibility) or to see how quickly they can confuse you. Fear not, viewer: if you pay attention and follow along, all will be explained...and it will make your brain buzz and your heart pound.

There are moments set in a retro-futuristic 1960's milieu that don't seem so much like what we think of as "the future" now, but what they would have thought of as such back in, say, 1950 or so, and the production design and attention to detail is both subtle and somehow quietly spectacular. The scenes in the '70s and '80s are presented as more realistic but with no less versimillitude on display. Overall, the look of the film (beautifully shot by ace DP Ben Nott) owes much more to classic film noir or the director-driven films of the seventies than it does to typical science fiction fare (those 60's scenes aside) and the film is all the more effective for it. The time-traveling scenes themselves are done without overblown CGI or any unneeded nonsense; it's lo-fi straight ahead "here one moment, gone the next" visuals and highly welcome for it.

It must be noted that although this is very much a sci-fi film, it is not overly concerned with any of the usual commercial trappings that go along with it; this is a movie of ideas, of thought and consideration, of paths chosen and destinies both found and made. The closest thing the Spierigs did in terms of adding any conventional "thriller" trappings is take what was present in one or two sentences in the original story -- a reference to a "fizzle bomb" -- and flesh that out. Rather than have it feel superfluous or unnecessary, this only adds deeper dimension and urgency to the underlying story that the characters find themselves circling. It's remarkably effective.

Speaking of effective, there's the acting to discuss. Other than Hawke and Snook, the only other major character in the film is Noah Taylor as the head of the Temporal Bureau, who manages to come off as slightly suspect and efficiently professional depending on the scene and our understanding of the plot at any given moment. However, let us not bury the lede -- we are here to praise the two leads. Hawke does what he's been doing for the last ten years or so in every genre project he's been attached to, which is to treat them as if they're the exact same thing as a film like Boyhood or the Before series. In short, the man ACTS, and remarkably well; he seems to make no distinction between Oscar bait and what some actors would think of as "lesser" material. Perhaps it's just that he's a genre fan himself and wants to treat these films the way they deserve to be treated, or maybe it's just that he's a goddamn professional and gets down to the business of doing his job. Either way, he is exceptionally good in the part. The problem is that, through no fault of his own, he is overshadowed by the mostly unknown (for now, anyway) quantity that is Sarah Snook. It's not hyperbole for me to state that this is one of the most impressive displays of acting I've seen in the last...well, ever. I'm trying to think of the last time an actor or actress I'd never watched onscreen before did what she does here. Maybe Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds; yet as masterful as his turn as Hans Landa was, it pales in comparison to the difficulty of the role Snook takes on here. It's one that she makes look as effortless as breathing, by the way -- she made me laugh just as quickly as she broke my heart before she let me see the iron fist of her resolve underneath a soft glove or the wounded soul within the scarred exterior. It's a magnificent thing she has done in this film, and I suspect we will be seeing her much more frequently from this point on.

The thing about the Spierigs that drives me absolutely nuts is this: they need to make more movies. Their first released film, the zombie comedy Undead, was fine and a nice little tribute to the early styles of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi; I enjoyed it but didn't love it. That changed with their next film, Daybreakers (which also starred Hawke). Essentially, I lost my shit for that flick and I adore it completely, own it on Blu and watch it a couple times a year easy. Now they've made Predestination, which I find to be even better...but I cannot stand the fact that these two insanely talented gentlemen (who, since Undead, have not only written the scripts for the films they direct but also supervise all the FX -- Peter even did the score for Predestination, for Christ's sweet sake, and it's great) have only made three films. It was 7 years between Undead and Daybreakers and then another 4 before Predestination (there was an aborted Dark Crystal sequel that they worked on after Daybreakers that I fervently hope they are able to resurrect). Bottom line: I'm selfish -- I love movies, and I love THEIR movies. I want to see more of them; one flick every two years doesn't seem like too much to ask. But given the fact that they wear so many hats during each project, and that they clearly work very, very hard to get them right and put the kind of care into them that bleeds through every frame, perhaps this is the way it needs to be. Maybe their movies are as good as they are specifically BECAUSE they take such time with them. I begrudgingly accept this, but still, like a 7 year old, I want more goodies, and the Spierigs bring the goodies. I can only hope they're working on the next asskicking flick that will caress my eyeballs and stimulate my brain even as I write these words.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has brought Predestination to Blu-ray with a stunning transfer and an excellent sound mix. We're talking about a 1080p HD picture in 2.40:1 aspect ratio and an immersive 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track that won't let anyone down -- it looks great and sounds better, so let's move on to the extra goodies. There's a couple minutes of bloopers, which are fine. There's a 4-min featurette, A Journey Through Time, but that's merely a condensed version of a larger piece and serves as an appetizer to the main course of the bonuses. I'm speaking of the full 75-min documentary Bringing Predestination To Life (exclusive to BD), which covers every aspect of the production from the beginning of the adaptation process to pre-production to principal photography to editing and the creation of the score in post. It's absolutely phenomenal, featuring interviews with the Spierigs, Snook, Hawke, Taylor, Nott, makeup FX craftsman Steve Boyle (who discusses his extraordinary and properly invisible work in the film), production designer Matthew Putland, editor Matt Villa, and other crew members. There's a wealth of on-set footage and behind the scenes testimonials, and it's utterly indispensable for true fans of the movie.

My favorite time travel movies are Back to the Future and Time After Time...or perhaps I should say "were," because in one fell swoop, after one single viewing, Predestination may have taken the top spot. This is a marvelous entertainment, stellar in execution and ambitious in intent; it succeeds so perfectly for me that I could easily babble about it for another few hundred words or I could simply say this: it touched my heart and thrilled my soul all while it jumbled my brain in the very best of ways. I cannot recommend Predestination enough.

It may not work for all of you the way it worked for me, but I suspect there's more than a few of you that it will.

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