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Predestination – film review

August 28, 2014


Brain-bending time travel yarn enjoyably confounding.

Reviewed on Tuesday 5th August 2014

predestination - sarah snook

Written & directed by Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig. Based on the story ‘All You Zombies’ by Robert A. Heinlein. Starring: Sarah Snook, Ethan Hawke and Noah Taylor. Running time: 97 mins.

What if you could go back in time and get away with killing those who ruined your life? Would you do it? A time-travelling hitman in the employ of the US government     is sent back to the early 1970s in order to take out a terror bomber before thousands of New Yorkers are killed in a massive explosion. Along the way he meets a bitter magazine writer who was wronged several years earlier. The writer is offered an opportunity he can’t refuse; to be given the chance to settle a score with the person who destroyed his life – by returning to the past.

Predestination is the third Aussie feature from identical twin filmmakers The Spierig Brothers: the writer/producer/directors responsible for Undead and Daybreakers.       A sci-fi thriller adapted from a short story written in 1958 by Robert A. Heinlein (the celebrated author whose other works ‘The Puppet Masters’ and ‘Starship Troopers’ were also adapted for the big screen) – Predestination (on the surface at least) appears to be a precursor to concepts seen in later films such as The Terminator and Time Cop. I have not read Heinlein’s original story ‘All You Zombies’ – upon which this is based – but from all accounts it is a remarkably faithful adaptation. This story is perhaps one of the most complex time travel yarns ever, as it features loops within loops within loops – so if you’re the sort of person who has issues dealing with the conundrums and paradoxes inherent in the concept of time travel, then this film will most likely drive you crazy. Others, however, who enjoy the challenge of deciphering tightly-woven puzzle box movies will find much to enjoy and ponder over in the hours and days after seeing it. This is not say the movie is incomprehensible – it’s not – something which can be wholly attributed to the careful thought and consideration gone into the screenplay by The Spierigs. And despite the narrative bouncing back and forth between various time periods – jumping as it does from the 80s to the 70s to the 60s and back again – the filmmakers make certain we are clued in to where     we are at any given time thanks to distinctive variations in art direction and cinematography. Production Designer Matthew Putland and his art department and Vanessa Cerne’s highly-detailed set decoration are instrumental in creating these very different looks. The 60s space program flashbacks, for example, have a very specific retro 60s future feel to them (and could easily take place in the same universe Kubrick created for 2001: A Space Odyssey) – contrasting nicely with       the other time periods.

There are so many plot twists and turns and reveals in this movie, that it’s almost impossible to talk about without giving anything away. However, there is one reveal     I simply must mention (don’t panic – it happens early on) – if only to credit the remarkable central performance by Sarah Snook. Although Ethan Hawke receives top-billing in the credits (and it is his face alone which appears prominently on the poster), it really is up-and-coming Aussie actor Sarah Snook who is the star of this particular film. Her dual role as transgender patient Jane/John (she was born Jane, but becomes John) is perfectly realized and I would not be at all surprised if she received well-deserved recognition for her masterful performance at the next AACTA awards (Australia’s own Oscars).

While the plot takes a little while to get going, with the first half of the film revealing Jane’s recounting of her life in flashback, while the second half ramps up momentum when she becomes embroiled in Ethan Hawke’s character’s hunt for the so-called ‘Fizzle Bomber’, it is this race-against-the-clock momentum and mystery of Source Code combined with the multi-layered characters and various time frames of Cloud Atlas which makes Predestination such a compelling, if at times complex, and yet enjoyably confounding experience.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova Eastend Cinemas, Adelaide, August 5th 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.


From → film reviews

  1. Great review! Sorry I’ve not been around in ages – finding it hard to find the time for blog reading! This is what I like about your blog – I get to read about interesting movies I’ve never heard of. I like the sound of this one! 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks table9! I love covering films which aren’t widely known – and there have been so many great indie genre films released this year. Predestination will hopefully gain a release overseas so you guys will be able to check it out. 🙂

  2. gregory moss permalink

    Congratulations to the Spierig brothers and everyone involved in the making of PREDESTINATION for their nine nominations in the upcoming AACTA awards (Australia’s own Oscars) to be announced in January 2015 … Nominations are for the following categories: Best Film, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and the amazing Sarah Snook for Best Lead Actress … Good luck guys!

    • gregory moss permalink

      Congratulations to AACTA award winners: cinematographer Ben Nott, editor Matt Villa, production designer Matthew Putland and lead actress Sarah Snook – I sense big things ahead for this talented performer!

  3. Tivep permalink

    Wow, insane film this was. Here’s a timeline diagram to help explain the events of the movie:

    • gregory moss permalink

      Hey, thanks for the heads-up! According to the Spierig brothers – the whole thing absolutely makes sense (otherwise why do it in the first place). And so I should probably issue a spoiler alert here – so, if you haven’t seen the movie – perhaps check it out first and then come back and click on the link above. 🙂

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