Robert Heinlein’s classic short story ‘All You Zombies’ gets the big screen treatment as the basis for the Science Fiction time travel thriller ‘Predestination’, a notably imaginative film noir that craftily elevates the genre into an alluring confection. Australian cinematic siblings the Spierig Brothers (as in Michael and Peter) dutifully direct and adapt Heinlein’s Science Fiction material into a twisty tale of search and suspense. It was reported that Heinlein wrote his intriguing narrative in one single day back in the late 1950s. Well, whatever the case is behind such speculation, it is clear that ‘Predestination’ is a competent and compelling time travel vehicle that deserves its inevitable comparison to the likes of Rian Johnon’s solid and involving 2012 inventive spectacle ‘Looper’.
The Spierig Brothers and ‘Predestination’ lead Ethan Hawke (Oscar-nominated for ‘Training Day’ and ‘Boyhood’) collaborate once again as they bring together a surreal movie experience detailing with the agenda of a Temporal Agent going undercover as a barkeep known as The Bartender (Hawke) in an attempt to thwart criminal activities before they turn into actual crimes. It is worth noting that the Spierigs have coveted the zombies/vampires sensationalism in their earlier films (‘Undead’ and ‘Daybreakers’) but curiously side-swipe any references to these creatures in ‘Predestination’ despite the aforementioned ‘All You Zombies’ blueprint for inspiration. Perhaps this is a wise revelation as the Spierigs are allowed to concentrate on the ponderous SF aspects of human adventure within the varied dimensions of time, place and space.
The daring exposition gels both creatively and caustically because of the macabre mission being undertaken by the Bartender and feminine targeted scriber ‘The Unmarried Mother’ (as portrayed by Aussie actress Sarah Snook, ‘Jessabelle’). The agent Bartender is represented by a shadowy and roguish governmental outfit blessed with the ability to fight crime through time-traveling tactics. Unfortunately, the rough edges in preventing crime-ridden hedonism through time travel accessibility has not always been a smooth transition for the Agency. Also, it does not help that the constant policing corruption has spiraled out of control thus adding more pressure to the Agency to perform its watchdog duties tackling sinister plots.
There are revolving elements that shape ‘Predestination’ to become this enigmatic, head-scratching puzzle where the sense of encountering warped worlds are wondrous yet unsettling and weird. The Bartender (already a victimized and distressed pawn in the nefarious dealings of the id-70s New York City’s elusive and crazed Fizzle Bomber) soon encounters a stranger betting him that he (or ‘she’ in certain cases) can provide the most outlandish story that he has ever heard to date. Soon the boastful stranger (Snook), a ‘True Confessions’ columnist for the written piece ‘The Unmarried Mother’, will figure into the Bartender’s predestined existence in more ways than one.
‘Predestination’ is a complicated SF sideshow that touched upon some unconventional fodder that range from timely commentary pertaining to violence to topical issues of sexuality. The film skillfully presents the frailties of suspicion, apprehension and uncertainty within the tangled and playful web of time travel management. With all the nifty under-sized flashy special effects and Science Fiction trickery aside, ‘Predestination’ sparkles in large part to its committed and calculating performances by Hawke and Snook as the psychological bait that guides the audience into the transfixing insanity that persists within the confines of the storylines. In particular, Snook’s ‘Mother’ is called upon to offer a complex characterization of an individual (both female and male genders) and take us into the nostalgic timelines of the past and present while conveying shades of toughness, vulnerability and mystique. She has a sordid backstory that unfolds and adds to the tormented trials and tribulations with the obsession of catching the scheming Fizzle Bomber. In a convincing supporting role, Noah Taylor’s Mr. Robertson is instrumental in the development of Snook’s triple identity crisis as Jane/John/’Mother’.
There certainly is an old-fashioned, spellbinding vibe about ‘Predestination’ that propels the Spierigs’ trippy time-traveling spectacle to its climatic ambitions. The low-key production values are surprisingly engaging but overall the telling proof of acting, directing, writing and imagination seems to be a winning formula in conception. Of course, the other filmmaking strokes involving the crisp cinematography, soothing score and vibrant set designs further compliments this punchy actioner.
Dark, moody and visibly challenging, 'Predestination’ gleefully plots and twists its way into a hearty submission of inspired Science Fiction contemplation. After all, time does not stand still for anybody especially in the realm of Australian noir SF sensibilities.
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions
1 hr. 37 mins.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook and Noah Taylor
Directed by: Michael and Peter Spierig
Genre: Science Fiction/Time Travel thriller/Sci-Fi crime caper
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of four stars)