“Predestination” (2014) is an indie sci-fi/mystery/thriller film that was written and directed by the Spierig brothers, Michael and Peter (“Undead,” “Daybreakers”). Its screenplay is an adaptation of the Robert A. Heinlein short story “‘– All You Zombies –‘” (1959). I watched the DVD release, obtained through my membership to Netflix (through which it recently became available). The film’s story, as signaled by its title, hangs on the concept of predestination. Add to this a time-travel trope, and a complicated plot emerges. Fans of Heinlein know of his preoccupation with such themes — and probably know the story as well, because it is considered a classic by many science-fiction readers and writers.
The Barkeep (Ethan Hawke) is actually a time-traveling government assassin (a “Temporal Agent”) who is sent back in time (by Robertson (Noah Taylor), the Agency chief) on his last mission before he retires from service. His orders are to apprehend or kill the Fizzle Bomber, who has been terrorizing New York City with a series of destructive blasts, before he or she pulls off his/her most devastating attack (which will kill thousands and level a huge section of the city). Transported back to 1978, Hawke’s character takes the cover role of the bartender at an NYC dive bar, where he meets The Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook). Snook’s character is a man who writes a popular “true confessions”-style column. The catch is that he used to be a woman (this is not a spoiler — it’s revealed early in the film). His story, told in flashback, turns out to be the key to Hawke’s character’s pursuit of the Fizzle Bomber. However, personal identity is very unstable in this story — just who is who depends on where the characters are in time. The Barkeep recruits The Unmarried Mother to accompany him back further in time to help him with his mission to stop the Fizzle Bomber. This journey, which leads circuitously to a confrontation with the Fizzle Bomber, reveals just how intimately each character’s past is wound up with that of the other.
- “Predestination” has been compared with “Looper” (2012), but they are very different films. While they are similar in concept and share some sci-fi tropes, the latter is more of an action film in style, while the former is very much a detective movie. I love the noir feel of “Predestination”– it mixes well with its science fiction elements.
- The special effects (such as the time travel sequences) and SFX makeup (especially when it is used with Hawke’s character) are effective without being overstated.
- The production is faithful to the Heinlein original, but still allows itself some room for creativity in its cinematic adaptation of the story.
- Snook (last seen in “Jessabelle”) does a surprisingly good job of playing the same character as a woman and as a man — before and after s/he goes through a transgendering process. She works well with Hawke, whose performance is good (but not great).
- The second act seems a bit slow to me, but the plot’s complications (which are significant) might account for this impression. Some viewers might be frustrated by the twists and turns.