Snook is someone merely called “The Unmarried Mother” in the credits. And her acting performance alone makes “Predestination” worth watching. But because the film is based on a story by Robert A. Heinlein (author of “Stranger in a Strange Land” and so many other seminal works), this is one movie any good science fiction fan just can’t resist.
Ethan Hawke (played in “Boyhood”) plays a time traveling Temporal Agent in “Predestination.” He’s a man unstuck in time who journeys through it to prevent crimes before they occur. This is a common conceit in science fiction, with the idea being tried on by Steven Spielberg who adapted Philip K. Dick for 2002’s “Minority Report.” But the way the filmmaking brother team of Michael and Peter Spierig (“Daybreakers”) approaches the idea is to use it as a method of talking about one’s identity and the relativity of life itself. There is a big picture thing going on in the background that will be unnerving to some and flat-out profoundly moving for others. Naturally, I fall firmly into the latter camp and “Predestination” is a mature and enlightening example of the use of familiar science fiction tropes to comment on social issues of the day.
But aside from the unique handling of the storyline, which involves Hawke’s character’s search for a terrorist bomber through the decades of time, young actress Sarah Snook delivers a noteworthy performance many will be talking about as this year kicks off. As the Unmarried Woman, Snook relays her story to Hawke as he tends bar in the 1970s hoping to gather information about the bomber he is hunting. Her story is mysterious and then gets ever more interesting, especially to Hawke’s Temporal Agent, as there might just be a connection to his investigation. As events unfold in flashback, we learn that no one is who they seem to be, appearances are not to be trusted.
As you can tell, I really liked the film, and I’m being intentionally cagey as to the key story elements. I just don’t want to give anything away. There is action in this film, and anyone who watches the trailer will notice Hawke’s character totes a large gun. But the real weapon threatening everyone in the film is the power of ideas and the concepts shaping one’s worldview. Hawke’s Agent is profiling the mysterious bomber and in doing so, he is forced to ask questions about himself. Just who is he? And because his job is to literally change time, who was he and who might he become?
The supporting cast is fine, here led by Noah Taylor (who readers might recognize from many productions and who can be seen in episodes of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” in which he took the hand of the King Slayer). Taylor plays Mr. Robertson, a director of sorts setting critical events in play. In a way, his reoccurrence throughout the narrative acts kind of like a Greek Chorus helping to ground Hawke and Snook with a little information. There is also something sinister about him adding to the intrigue.
The filmmaking team, referred to as the Spierig Brothers, certainly knows how to create a rich and slick production. And their use of the much-in-demand Arri Alexa digital cinema camera is excellent producing an image that approximates film but is now fondly referred to by some as the “Alexa look.” Those of you who took in 2013’s “Her” can appreciate what this camera can do, and the look of “Predestination” is to be lauded. The special effects are seamless and stand up well against films with much larger budgets.
“Predestination” is a noirish little science fiction film that actually has something important to say. In this era of whizz bang action-laden futuristic blockbusters, such a thing is rare.