The very best thing about reviewing movies is watching how certain filmmakers improve after each effort. Take, for example, the Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig. About a decade ago they hit the festival circuit with a very raucous action-filled horror comedy called Undead, which isn’t exactly a brilliant movie, but it definitely exhibits a whole lot of color, noise, and energy — and that’s the sort of stuff that helps your film make an impact on the festival circuit.
A few years later the brothers returned with another genre-bender called Daybreakers (2009), a science fiction vampire story that somehow managed to maintain a straight face through some potentially silly ideas, and the result was a futuristic horror cocktail that works a whole lot better than one might expect, based solely on the plot description. Superior work from the likes of Sam Neill and Ethan Hawke are a large part of why Daybreakers works so well…
So it should come as no surprise to see the Spierig brothers enlist Mr. Hawke for their third feature, which is a time-travel brain-twister of the most fascinating variety. This low-key but highly intelligent Australian import Predestination is based on Robert Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies,” and it’s not only the Spierig brothers’ best film; it’s one of the most intriguing time-travel movies to hit the screens in quite some time.
Ethan Hawke (excellent, as always) plays a “temporal agent” whose job is to leap back in time and thwart the efforts of the infamous “fizzle bomber,” a terrorist who will ultimately take the lives of 11,000 New Yorkers. While on assignment in the early 1970s, our hero poses as a bartender and strikes up an unlikely friendship with an unusual patron — and that’s where this “simple” plot synopsis draws to a close. The fun of Predestination lies in discovering the clues that the filmmakers lay down, so let’s just say that the bartender and his new pal have met before. More than once, in fact, and under some rather bizarre circumstances.
Not content to simply toss a few “temporal anomaly” subplots at the screen, the co-writers have done a masterful job of capturing Heinlein’s themes, ideas, and frequently audacious concepts. In other words, Predestination deals with some unexpectedly subversive ideas (transgender identity crises, for example) but never stumbles into, ugh, melodrama or, even worse, unintentional comedy. There’s a refreshing sense of class, maturity, and restraint to Predestination, which probably stems from the directors’ affection for the source material, and their enthusiasm for the story and its lofty ideas all but leaps from the screen.
As usual, Ethan Hawke brings a calm command to even the craziest of genre stories; in Predestination the guy gets to run through all sorts of physical transformations, and he never misses a beat. Australian actress Sarah Snook has no trouble keeping up with the veteran Hawke, and her performance(s) are reminscient of both Jodie Foster and Leonardo DiCaprio. (Bizarre compliment, sure, but not if you’ve seen the film.) Throw in some essential support / exposition work from the great Noah Taylor, a stellar musical score, and a truly impressive screenplay that somehow pulls some legitimate emotion out of some really strange places… there’s simply a whole lot to like about Predestination.
And based only on their progression after three features, I cannot wait to see what the Spierig boys cook up next.
4.5 out of 5 temporal burritos