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‘Predestination’ is an original thrill in a dead January landscape

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Predestination
Written for the screen and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (credited as The Spierig Brothers)
Australia, 2014

Walking into Predestination clean is perhaps the best advice to offer any cinephile willing to hunt down this likely future cult classic. It would be easy to just describe Predestination as Looper tossed in a blender with Minority Report, but the Spierig Brothers are going in a very different direction here. A direction that may lose a few viewers along the way.

Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent, a time-traveling arm of the law that travels all through the ages to prevent killers from committing crimes. His next assignment, should it prove successful, will be the agent’s last. Problem with that is the criminal he is tasked with chasing is the one who has eluded him time after time. In his last tangle with the Fizzle Bomber (yes, the name sounds absurd, but roll with it), the agent momentarily apprehended his man, but the resulting blast left the agent disfigured. Now tasked with recruiting some help (played by Sarah Snook), the agent will be sent to 1975 to prevent the deaths of thousands.

Robert Heinlein’s short story All You Zombies was originally 13 pages, yet the Spierigs spin this yarn into 97 minutes by expanding Snook’s character, John, significantly. Given the difficulty of playing an intersex being, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if newcomer Snook faltered, but she’s stunning as John/Jane, offering distinct interpretations of both characters without making choices that would shape the storylines into something indecipherable. She’s a revelation and an actress to keep an eye out for in the future.

Aiding Snook and Hawke in fully realizing their portrayals is a fort-yish minute sequence in a bar that fleshes things out much more than they would be allowed to in a larger feature. Hawke is adventurous with his career choices of late, and his role as the unnamed agent is an ideal follow-up after Getaway, Before Midnight, and Boyhood. He wasn’t given much to do in his last project with the Spierigs (Daybreakers), but Hawke takes advantage of the better writing this time around.

Predestination-Ethan-Hawke

At times the story takes a step down a road that arrives before it should, robbing some twists of thematic weight; these small flaws aren’t fatal to the film, however. Predestination has a bevy of resourceful technical wizards on staff giving the film an authentic period look. More impressive is special makeup effects designer Steve Boyle and his collaborative work with Snook in creating a multi-layered performance. Cinematographer Ben Nott eschews the blue-heavy look of Daybreakers, favoring unique looks for each period Ethan Hawke traverses, whether it be the 1940s, 60s or 70s.

Time travel movies inevitably draw criticism for plotholes, but there’s still a lot of value in being surprised in today’s film market. With so many pre-constructed franchises and remakes offered, something this original and intricately crafted is a joy to behold in the doldrums of January. Predestination may suffer from one too many turns, but it never stops being entertaining. Visit Taken 3 via Redbox later and give Predestination your currency.

— Colin Biggs


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