My introduction to the Aussie filmmakers, The Spierig Brothers (Michael & Peter), was not a good one. Their first release in 2003’s Undead was a sloppy mess and it appeared that they were destined to be another footnote in cinema history. Never count any filmmaker out though because anything can happen if given another try. For their third entry the duo has decided to adapt one hell of a complicated time travel story. You’d think that would be a fool’s errand but you would be wrong. In fact, their film Predestination might one of the better sci-fi outings in quite a long time.
Trying to describe the plot of Predestination is a mind field because even the tiniest of details will destroy the mystery. In short it involves an agent (Ethan Hawke) trying to find the identity of a terrorist with the use of time travel. While taking the identity of a bartender he gets involved with an author (Sarah Snook) whose complicated, and fascinating, backstory might make or break the case. There are oodles of paradoxes and enormous threads that make this not only refreshing for a science fiction film but it is also handled fairly well. Apart from the opening scenes, which confuse more than explain, this is fairly easy to follow and the Spierig’s do a good job making the crazy twists (somewhat) believable.
What you are going to talk about the most with Predestination is Sarah Snook’s performance. Again it is hard to dive in too much without spoiling but let’s just say she transforms seamlessly as time moves on. In general the story of her character takes up the majority of the film and it becomes a tale of a strong, female character rather than what could have been a generic sci-fi/action movie. It is amazing how Snook goes from point A to point B but not only does the make-up department do their job but Snook nails what comes about with this kind of transformation. It is unfortunate for Hawke who does not get much to do for the majority of the film but only because of how the plot is structured. It certainly is one of his better, non-Richard Linklater outings however.
For a movie with ridiculous elements as time travel it becomes a bit of a shock how serious the production design is for the film. We go from the 1950s to 1970s and each setting has terrific costume & set designs. Everything in here looks authentic from the dresses the women wear during a training montage in the 60s to the dingy design of a bar in the 70s. Sometimes it does feel a bit of a parody in the way side characters act but for the most part it is a serious affair. Even with some instances of having a more stylized look such as the lighting or prop designs this film wants to stay as realistic looking as possible.
Given the limitations in describing the plot and characters of this film, Predestination is still an easy recommend. The Spierig Brothers certainly had a lot of ambition adapting a plot full of time travel complications but they are more than capable of making an enjoyable experience. Mostly because this film focuses on the fascinating backstory of Sarah Snook’s character and boy she delivers a performance that will be tough to beat this year. What is amazing though is now this reviewer cannot wait to see what the Spierig Brothers will do next considering how well they have improved dramatically since 2003.