Predestination Is A Uniquely Tragic Time-Travel Film.

Predestination.
Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Writer: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig (screenplay), Robert A. Heinlen (story).
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor.
Playing at: Texas Theatre.

Time travel stories are always tricky.

Unless the movie annoyingly lays out the rules of the universe, the rules of the world will be picked apart to death by nerds online. If you do a search right now for “plot holes” + “any time travel movie” you'll get a deluge of articles pointing out errors in the logic of the movie — y'know, because “time travel doesn't work that way.”

To me, those people are missing the point of what time travel can be as a device for filmmakers.

At its worst, it's just an excuse for a costume change. But at its best, a sci-fi movie can use time travel as a way to actually explore themes within a story instead of just using it as a mere plot device. The Spierig brothers' Predestination does this pretty well, too.

Based on the Robert A. Heinlen (Starship Troopers) short story “All You Zombies,” it stars Ethan Hawke as The Bartender, a time-travelling agent sent back to help stop the “Fizzle Bomber,” whose work killed thousands of people in 1970s New York City. And, despite some pacing issues at the beginning of the movie, this is one of the more unique time travel movies this side of Looper.

The movie's strength is that it's the right mix of a minimalistic setting, naturalistic dialogue and clever editing. Its story hinges on effectively unraveling the central mystery of the movie as it goes on. In turn, the movie is a bit of a slow burn. That's for sure this film's biggest problem: The first third of the 90-minute movie is spent seemingly wasting time, giving you the life story of a side character whose pen name is the “Unmarried Mother.” As the movie pushes on, it becomes clear that the movie is just laying seeds for some plot points that will pay off much later. Still, even with this knowledge, it's still a little difficult to get through.

While that first third is on the long side, the dialogue still makes Predetstination stand out. The conversations between The Barkeep and The Mother are just very relaxed; they flow like conversations you could actually overhear at the bar.

On the acting side of things, the MVP of the movie is Sarah Snook who stars as Jane in the film's flashback moments. Her character is different: She's smarter than everyone else despite not paying attention in class; and she's freakishly strong, so she is always alienated from others. With remarkable expression, Snook gives the character so much depth that she anchors the movie's emotional core.

Hawke, on the other hand, is just kind of OK. It's strange: The man does some amazing work in the Before Sunrise series with director Richard Linklater, but when it comes to genre fare, it's almost as if he holds his acting chops back.

Meanwhile, even for a low-budget film, the time-traveling special effects are simple. But they're effective enough and abetted by some very detailed set designs that clearly differentiate the various time periods of 1945, 1963, 1975, 1985 and 1992.

As with many time-travel flicks, this one eventually delves into some pretty heady themes — among them free will, fate and even the merits of the greater good versus personal satisfaction. Predestination has a lot to say about whether a person can change for the better or if we're all just stuck repeating the same patterns over and over. In other words: This is a pretty complex and tragic sci-fi movie, one that fits in right alongside 12 Monkeys in that regard.

I'm sure it'll drive the nitpicking nerds out there crazy, too. But if you're willing to let this universe have its own rules about time travel, it's a rewarding watch.

Just as it maybe always has been.

Grade: B.

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