It pains me to say that the Spierig Brothers’ latest just doesn’t quite work as well as it should. Predestination has all the hallmarks of a Sci-Fi classic – a great cast, fantastic use of budget (without an over-reliance on SFX), a bunch of plot twists, and a slightly-convoluted yet easy to follow narrative that actually ends up making sense. Unfortunately, the other thing it possesses in spades is predictability, the precise thing you want to avoid in a time-travel thriller that relies so heavily on its twists and turns in lieu of masses of action-packed set-pieces.
It’s a bit hard to explain the plot of the film – not because it’s overly complicated, just because the film (like many other recent endeavours into time-travel) isn’t laid out in a conventional manner. It basically boils down to a sort-of cross between Minority Report and the tried and true trope of “one last job” with time-jumping. We essentially follow a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) as he pursues a criminal who has eluded him for his whole career, and tries to convince a potential candidate (Sarah Snook) to join his secret government initiative (trust me, it’s captured far more proficiently in a visual medium than it is on paper).
The film centres on our two leads, “the Bartender” and “the Unmarried Mother” – played (fantastically) by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook of Not Suitable For Children fame. The first half of the film is essentially “the Unmarried Mother” recounting the tale of her past to “the Bartender” in exchange for free drinks. The latter half concerns “the Bartender’s” attempts to complete his final cross-Temporal assignment and indoctrinate “the Unmarried Mother” into his agency. While time is not linear in the film, the plot (thankfully) is and I doubt anyone will have a great deal of trouble following the narrative. There’s a lot of good in the film. It’s fairly polished, it’s Aussie-ness is balanced – downplayed yet clear, the performances were great, and the cinematography was amazing. The Spierig Brothers always seem in control of the feature, and their confident approach to film making is to be admired. I also loved their creative vision of time-travel and all of the devices involved.
Unfortunately, something which the film does terribly is foreshadowing – not in the sense that it lacks it, in the sense that every single twist and turn is telegraphed and reiterated way too early on in the film. When I’d guessed every direction the film would take about thirty minutes in I was sure the foreshadowing had to be a red herring – I was dead wrong. If you think you’ve cracked this film early on, you probably have. This really prevented me from investing in the feature and I’m sad to say undermined a lot of the film’s good qualities.
Without trying to spoil anything (skip this paragraph if you’re keen on seeing it), I think it should be mentioned that the film does a pretty poor job of dealing with androgyny – to the point where I think a lot of people may find the manner in which Predestination deals with this non-cisgendered sexual identity hollow or even downright offensive. I personally didn’t have a massive issue with, but I found their application of intersexuality as a plot device to be a little lazy, erring more on the side of “wow, so edgy” rather than “wow, how interesting and clever”.
Overall, the final product is very stylish and quite watchable – I wouldn’t even be surprised if Predestination is a minor hit in both domestic and international markets. I also can’t be critical of Screen Australia’s investment in something a little less “ocker” Australian, it definitely increases the odds that it will do well overseas quite substantially. To be honest, Predestination is also much better than most Aussie films I’ve seen over the past couple of years. Unfortunately it just isn’t anywhere near the standards set by, say, Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes or Shane Carruth’s Primer. The Spierig Brothers’ previous effort Daybreakers was often accused of being style over substance but, to be honest, I’d probably have preferred that over the style with the pretense of substance that Predestination offers. I’m glad to see an Aussie film that deserves more coverage than its recent brothers and sisters receiving it but be wary, this probably isn’t going to be the mind-blowing, revolutionary time-travel film it’s been depicted as in Australian critical circles. It’s just average, and pretends to be much more than that. This, above all, makes it hurt just that little bit more.
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