Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig.
Starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Christopher Kirby and Christopher Sommers.
A ‘Temporal Agent’ who travels through time to prevent major crimes attempts to capture the infamous ‘Fizzle Bomber’, who has thus-far eluded him, on his final assignment.
Remember the first time you saw Memento and couldn’t work it out, secure in the knowledge you’d be going back again and again to piece it all together? Or perhaps, like me, you’re one of those people who’s still trying to make sense of the labyrinth that is Donnie Darko. While neither of these films relate directly to time travel, an inherently complex template, both stand out as clear examples of films which push the boundaries of narrative complexity. But “move over” say The Spierig Brothers, the directorial duo responsible for the impressive Daybreakers, “we’ve made a film so terrifically convoluted that hours of head scratching won’t be nearly enough to fully wrap your head around it”. Indeed, Predestination weaves a plot so complex that it’s hard to fully comprehend after just one sitting, but the question is, does this make for a rewarding film or an inaccessible one?
It’s hard to discuss much without giving away spoilers, but essentially the film, based on a short story from the 50s, follows Ethan Hawke as a ‘Temporal Agent’ who works for the Temporal Bureau, a secret government agency that has invented time travel and sends these agents throughout history to prevent major crimes. The one criminal who has thus-far eluded the agency is the infamous ‘Fizzle Bomber’, so Hawke – otherwise known as The Barman – goes on one final mission to catch him before retirement. Sounds moderately straightforward, yet within these extremely modest 97 minutes a looping plethora of information, twists and exposition is crammed down our throats to the point of choking.
There’s simply so much to digest, so many strands to consider, that another twenty or so minutes wouldn’t have gone amiss. While there’s plenty to be said for brief, adrenalizing actioners (think of Lucy and Dredd), Predestination is a lot more than that and really needs more time to at least give the audience an idea of what’s going on. It doesn’t slow down even for a second. On the flip side, the film also takes a potentially expansive narrative and essentially reigns it in to a focussed study of two characters. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the impressively lengthy first act which devotes it’s entire time to two characters talking in a bar – an enthralling conversation which explains, in the barest sense, what the film is about.
Comparative to the chicken and egg conundrum used both symbolically and as a narrative device, it’s never quite clear whether it’s the physical construction of the film that’s winning us over or the weight of the ideas behind it, for it succeeds wildly through both. Beyond trying to figure out the chronology and meaning of it all, Predestination is a sparky, fun ride with two enthralling performances at the centre and a great, punchy soundtrack wrapped around the edges. Ethan Hawke, quasi-star that he is, has a real knack for picking out interesting roles in interesting films, yet Sarah Snook steals the show in an anchoring and physically varied performance.
The film is likely to leave many viewers completely baffled, yet it’s baffling in the most rewarding way. If you can imagine Looper, Minority Report and Memento all rolled into one; a completely subverting, contorted, paradoxical, thought-provoking film which basks in the complexities of its subject and has fun with freedoms awarded with time travel storytelling. While difficult to wrap your head around (you’ll likely spend most of the time going “Who? What? How does that work…?”) and lacking in the charm and sheen of something like Inception, Predestination is worth a look-in, if not several, for being a rare combination of thrills and brains.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Edward Gardiner – follow me on Twitter