Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Predestination

The Sprierig Brothers' last film, 2009's Daybreakers, was good but it had issues. It started strong, had kind of a muddle in the middle, and wobbled completely off the tracks by the end. Their latest film, Predestination, is almost exactly the opposite and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Based on the short story "All You Zombies—" by Robert A. Heinlein (who, as an aside, is my all-time favorite author), Predestination starts with a bit of a wobble, muddles into coherency in the middle, and has a spectacular conclusion. The Spierigs almost slavishly adhere to Heinlein's story while at the same time adding a new subplot that allows the it to effortlessly expand to become a feature-length film.

Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent, a time traveler, working as a bartender in an alternate reality version of New York City. In comes the "Unmarried Mother," a man who writes for a woman's confessional magazine. Only he started life as a she and so the story goes.

To tell more would ruin the fun. Though saying so is faintly blasphemous, I sort of wish I'd never read Heinlein's short story. Because I had, the opening act of the film seems wordy and chock-a-block full of exposition. Since I knew what was going on, I got a little restless for things to really get started. Going in cold might have made the experience better, so I don't really want to discuss the plot or characters any further other than to say that maybe the film doesn't start as wobbly as I thought.

Hawke does a fine job, but the revelation is Sarah Snook. She plays man, woman, etc., with aplomb and style. If her makeup as a man isn't entirely convincing, that's the point. Remember, she started life as a woman and became a man. It's the circumstances of that transformation, and the emotional toll it takes on the character, that are the point, and Snook brings out those nuances with a fine performance.

I can't emphasize this enough. Snook has to sell the entire character and she succeeds wildly. She's already won the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts award (Predestination was made in Australia) for Best Lead Actress for this performance. If there's a hint of justice in the world, she'll at least get an Oscar nomination next year.

Predestination is beautifully shot, winning the AACTA award for Cinematography. The editing is clean, the pace steady. The few visual effects are subtle and nicely done. The ambient music is perfect. Etc.

Snook's performance aside, the best thing about the film is that it's intelligent and assumes the audience is, too. You are allowed the contemplate the implications of the end without the filmmakers drawing you a paint-by-the-numbers map. It's refreshing.

As is the entire film. Predestination is a small film with an original, and challenging, story. It's well worth your time to seek out and see. If you can't find it at a theatre near you (I couldn't), it's available for rent or purchase via Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Video, or (if you must) iTunes.

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