“Predestination” Movie Review

     Actor Ethan Hawke has carved out somewhat of a niche for himself within the B-movie genre category, starring in a number of quality low budget offerings that tend to satisfy the audience they are intended for, but don’t necessarily exhibit a lot of crossover appeal.  Immediately coming to mind is the sleeper Summer 2013 hit “The Purge” in which Hawke led a fine cast in a story focused on events primarily occurring within the confines of a single family home.  The important element to this type of low budget fare is the presence of a compelling storyline with meaningful characters and notable dialogue that can mask the lack of production value.  Directors Michael and Peter Spierig have successfully done this before, with Hawke as their star no less, in the highly watchable “Daybreakers”, a film that presented a unique spin on the traditional vampire trope.  The Spierig Brothers’ new film “Predestination” builds on their “Daybreakers” success, this time utilizing a clever time travel plot with Ethan Hawke yet again in the starring role.  Receiving a platform release in the U.S., “Predestination” is positioned primarily as a VOD release and should see plenty of success checking in as a quality genre title.

     In the tradition of films such as “Inception” and “Memento”, “Predestination” is a brain teaser of sorts and paying attention to exactly what the film’s characters say and do is of the upmost importance if the story is to make sense to you at the end.  Hawke plays an unnamed character who works as an Agent for a futuristic time traveling government agency called the Temporal Bureau.  These agents seem to be charged primarily with going back in time to stop terrible crimes from happening and in this case, the target and the story’s central villain is a nefarious killer known as the Fizzle Bomber.  Hawke’s Temporal Agent is sent back to the mid 1970s and begins work as a bartender and seems to know that a mysterious, yet intelligent man is about to walk through the doors of his tavern ready to strike up an important conversation.  We’ll call him John for now as he takes a seat at the bar and immediately displays a disdain for the society we live in, yet appears ready to tell all to a complete stranger tending the bar.  Is this guy the Fizzle Bomber?  Is the Temporal Agent aware of this already or is his manipulative line of questioning designed to determine yes or no?

     As the Agent and John talk, a small wager is made as John bets the Agent a bottle of whisky that he can tell him the most unbelievable story he has ever heard.  The Agent obliges and thus begins a chronologically structured flashback that takes us through John’s early adolescent life to the point which he is at now.  When the story concludes and John has divulged he believes there is one person in his life responsible for the state of mind he is currently in, the Agent offers him the chance to go back in time and kill that person with no repercussions.  John accepts and the two leave the bar and go into a back room, where the Agent explains scientifically to John (and the audience) how the device that can take them to virtually anytime forward or back works.  Interestingly enough, the device is concealed in a violin case with the combination lock mechanisms functioning as to how the user sets the date they are traveling to.

     It is at this point the linear storytelling ends and the characters begin to appear in scenes as themselves at different points in time, sometimes appearing at the same time on screen.  The makeup designers here did a fantastic job, transforming Hawke’s look at various stages of his law enforcement career over a span of several decades.  In addition, there are many featured looks applied to actress Sarah Snook who appears as several incarnations throughout the story with ages ranging from a teenager all the way to a person in their forties.  Snook also delivers an outstanding performance and is every bit as engaging as Hawke tends to be, even when they are staring each other right in the face during several tense verbal stand offs.  It’s amazing what a solid script can do for two fine actors who otherwise are appearing in ordinary looking sets and scenes that contain little or no special effects.

     I’ve obviously left out all of the key details to the plot and maintained a purposeful vagueness in order to ensure every surprising twist and turn has the proper effect.  There are obvious limits to these types of films when budgetary considerations are significantly less than studio films enjoy, but I’ve always felt where films like “Predestination” may lack in whizz bang computer generated shots they make up for it in more important areas such as creating interesting and unique characters that we actually get to know through conversational scenes that wouldn’t make the final cut in bigger more expensive films.  One can only hope when the Spierig Brothers are hired to make their first big budget film, which considering the talent they’ve displayed is inevitable, they remember the creative elements of their independent projects that will have gotten them there in the first place.  With “Predestination”, they have created a thought provoking film that effectively pulls off the ability to keep the audience guessing until the film’s very last frame.  GRADE: B