Predestination is one of the great “guy walks into a bar” movies. If it jettisoned its opening ten minutes and began simply with that – a guy walking into a bar – I imagine the extreme turns it takes henceforth would be far more surprising and audacious, but also, I suspect, harder to swallow for viewers less-willing to go on a really wild ride. As it stands, you know from the outset that the film is eventually going to get wrapped up in some explosive sci-fi theatrics, but the time it takes to get back to that mode is admirably pacy.
Far more entrenched in dialogue and character, the film literally becomes two people talking in a bar for a good chunk and, given the expectations laid down by the film’s opening, as well as its marketing materials, it takes you off-guard. Luckily the two actors are more than qualified to bridge the gap.
Ethan Hawke, one of contemporary cinema’s great listeners, provides a narrative anchor while Sarah Snook makes a meal out of most of the storytelling; playing a role so complex and chameleonic with such conviction that it’s a crime she wasn’t lauded with a trophy cabinet full of awards for her efforts. The more she talks, the more you try to jump ahead and second-guess where the film is going but she always slows you down, making you enjoy two characters talking over a drink or a game of pool. Hawke always seems most comfortable when playing co-star, getting to react and support another performer rather than carrying most of the weight on his own shoulders, so naturally he too is really in his element. As the film progresses and the distance between the two characters becomes smaller, their pasts and future more intwined, you buy it because their double act is so appealing.
Directors the Spierig brothers shoot with a comic-book eye and lay in a series of visual motifs – overhead shots which draw attention to circles in the production design, reinforcing the cyclical nature of the film’s themes or merely mirroring the face of a watch – to avoid it becoming too stagey. When it does eventually give way to genre indulgences, the whole thing goes into overdrive. Where you were once willing the film to kick it up a notch, it eventually reaches a point where the plotting becomes so convoluted and hectic that you’re in serious danger of being left behind. Luckily, the sense of whiplash confusion teeters on the knife-edge of being tolerable and is ultimately rewarded with a pay-off so bonkers that you’ve just got to buckle in and enjoy the freefall. Thankfully the writing, sourced from an acclaimed short story by Robert A. Heinlein, is rich and underlined with intelligence and nuance. Match that with the terrific performances and sleek, hyper stylistics in the direction and you’ve got a near-perfect modern age B-Movie. A headtrip in the truest sense of the word.
PS. Bonus points for Noah Taylor essentially reprising his role from Vanilla Sky.