The opening night film of the recent Melbourne International Film festival was the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination (2014). For such a massive festival, it is great to see a home grown genre flick getting the honour of being the first film up. Whilst it is not quite perfect, you can definitely see why the organisers thought that this film would be a great conversation starter to get things going.
Hybrid genre pictures are growing in popularity recently and the early stages of Predestination, combining sci-fi and crime elements, is a really good example of the form. There is an arch voiceover, time travel and a sense of classical crime fiction with the lone cop, gradually edging closer to the crime as he works the clues and chases down leads. It takes place (for the most part) in a 70s New York that feels more like the 50s with a hardboiled feel dripping from the dialogue. Then all of a sudden there is a shift in the film as the action slows and a bar conversation flashback takes up a really lengthy period of time. I would say a good half an hour which is a lot in a taut film like this one. Initially I was a little perturbed by this. I was enjoying the sci-fi crime jazz so much and I didn’t sign up for a drama, even though it is pretty compelling. But like many bold choices, I think it just takes a little bit of time to acclimatise to the unexpected shift. Indeed I think the decision makes the film a stronger one and if not that, it definitely makes it a more interesting and compelling one. Even so, whilst watching the film I was missing the time travel fantasticalness that I thought I was buying a ticket for. Don’t fret though because it comes thick and fast in the last section of the film. I am not going to pretend I entirely understood of the plot turns and ramifications. I think it would be really tough for anyone to pick them up first time through. But I actually don’t see it as a bad thing to be challenged in that way and I would happily watch the film again soon to try and pick up what I missed.
The big name on the cast list, returning for his second film with the brother directorial team after Daybreakers (2009) is Ethan Hawke. Over the past five years or so, Hawke has had a filmography probably as interesting as anyone’s and he does a great job here as the main temporal agent who carries a fair bit of the film. Hawke is great, but the real star is Australian actress Sarah Snook who carries probably an equal overall load but who definitely does more of the emotional lifting. I have seen Snook in a couple of things before, but she is totally transformative here. She shows exceptional range encompassing sassy all the way through to totally and utterly vulnerable. Part of that is due to the nature of the character that Snook plays which I can’t really go into without entering spoiler territory. But you would have to think that this performance will surely break Snook’s career into much bigger things. Well if there is any justice it will. Not only have the Spierig Brothers managed to draw quality performances out of their two leads, they have also delivered a film with very high production values. The film looks so slick and it is great to see an Australian film being set in New York that succeeds in making you feel like you are in that place.
Predestination has the kind of story that will have you thinking you know where it is taking you, before it flips on you. Without feeling cheap too which is nice. With two really wonderful central performances from Snook and Hawke, plenty for you to think about and the chance to see two young genre directors continue to hone their craft, this is one you should definitely support on the big screen if at all possible.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny