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film review: predestination

Predestination poster

Looking for a gender-swapping, time-travelling, visual and narrative roller coaster ride? Then look no further than the Aussie-made flick Predestination, out now in cinemas.

Written and directed by Brisbane-based brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, and based on a short story, All You Zombies, by renowned sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein, Predestination does not disappoint. Staring just three actors, Ethan Hawke, Noah Taylor, and up-and-coming talent Sarah Snook, it’s a film that sci-fi and Aussie film buffs should not miss.

The film opens with an action-packed race for time against an impending bomb explosion and then effortlessly moves into a narrative-driven epic about a mysterious customer named simply ‘The Unmarried Woman’ (played by Snook) who tells their life story to Hawke’s character, ‘The Bartender,’ while he works a dingy bar in NYC, circa 1970s. After 45 minutes or so of The Unmarried Woman’s story, we are slowly led into the workings of the real plot lying just underneath the surface. To say much more about what happens next and how the movie concludes would be to give away too much. You can check out a short synopsis here for a bit more information, but be warned, even reading a half-hearted attempt at summarising the plot may give away something precious accidentally.

The film falls short in only one major way for me – there is very little explanation at the beginning of what you are actually watching. The narrative plot takes over without any warning, and it drains away for just a bit too long. This makes you wonder for the first half of the film whether you bought a ticket to a sci-fi or a drama flick. And although you are rewarded for your patience – eventually – the wait can be tiresome.

News.com.au’s national film critic Leigh Paatsch agrees that the film loses scope in the first half, but goes on to say that this is a ‘bit of a shame, really, as the breathtaking range displayed by Snook to meet the imposing demands of her unusual character deserved a better showcase than this.’ I believe, though, that Snook’s acting triumphs over this small hurdle and that audience members can forgive that strange story telling once they are embedded into her radical and captivating performance.

The stylish film has ‘left some viewers scratching their heads but all praising Snook’s breakout performance.’ Snook is a NIDA graduate who was recently in Not Suitable for Children and Sisters of War. She clearly has a grasp of her character in Predestination, something that becomes vitally important as the film progresses and we as the audience end up losing the clear and coherent boundaries between who’s who and who’s doing what to whom. Did I mention Snook does this all while playing a man? The character of The Unmarried Woman is much more than they seem, and Snook traverses these lines effortlessly. She admitted that it was ‘a pretty big challenge’ but she enjoyed ‘experimenting with the thought processes – how a man deals with life.’

The control and utter skill of Snook matches and at times surpasses Ethan Hawke – something that, I believe, is a rare occurrence. Hawke is one of those actors that always make an audience think hard about what they’re watching. And in Predestination, that baton gets passed to Snook and she handles it with ease.

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