Monday, April 12, 2004

Movie Review: Gattaca

United States, 1997
U.S. Release Date: 10/24/97
Running Time: 1:52
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, mature themes, profanity)
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin, Jude Law, Loren Dean, Gore Vidal, Ernest Borgnine

Director: Andrew Niccol
Producers: Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol
Music: Michael Nyman
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Posted by Hello
Your average science-fiction film sets out to predict the technological innovations of the future with often distracting depictions of laser weaponry, flying cars, human-looking robots, and voice-activated everything. However, Gattaca is not your typical sci-fi motion-picture. Gattaca doesn’t waste its time trying to show off high-tech futuristic gadgets; it sets out with other goals in mind – to establish character development, to convey its ideas with intellect, and to provoke thought – and this high tension and intriguing feature accomplishes all of these goals with ease. Gattaca is a sophisticated sci-fi that will surely both retain your interest and have you on the edge of your seat throughout.

The film opens with the heading “in the not too distant future,” and this statement is beyond realistic; some day this film’s fictional ideas may in fact become non-fictional realities. We are currently coming closer and closer to a world where we can control a human being’s gender and physical characteristics in order to perfect them to a predetermined liking before they are even born. This is exactly the scary and quite possible premise of Gattaca.

In a time where children come special-ordered and genetically fine-tuned at a price, and where normal conception is seen as hasty and uncaring, there is no longer discrimination based upon ethnicity and race, but rather on the flaws in one’s genetic code. The more money a couple has reflects how perfect of a child they can custom order; this brings new meaning to the Burger King slogan “Have it your way.” A specific genome could earn a genetically altered human being an elite occupation, while those conceived by non-artificial means (a.k.a. the “invalids”), are not genetically qualified for the more prestigious vocations. However, there are those rare occasions when an invalid poses as something he/she is not—a valid.

Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) was conceived the natural way and was born with a 99% chance of heart problems and a life expectancy of thirty years. Growing up, Vincent was told the only way he would ever accomplish his dream of being inside of a space shuttle was if he was cleaning it for those who are far more genetically qualified. Over time, Vincent showed unrelenting determination to meet his goal of working for the Gattaca Space Center and getting the chance to explore the wonders of the universe, and eventually an opportunity arises of which Vincent takes full advantage.

Jerome Marrow (Jude Law) was a genetically-altered walking success--that is, until an accident left him paralyzed and placed him in a wheelchair. With Jerome feeling unable to contribute to society, he offered his name and life to Vincent. Vincent gratefully accepts the opportunity and with Jerome’s helix in hand, he takes on Jerome’s name and persona and lands a job at the Gattaca Space Center. But, in a world where “false ladders” are easily discovered – a world where the slightest trace of a flake of skin or even an eyelash could be detrimental to one’s cover – it is beyond complicated to pass as someone else without leaving something to trace behind.

Vincent’s determination to make it into space is the absolute core of this film. The other secondary and tertiary storylines – the murder mystery and the slight romance – only add to the intensity of Vincent’s commanding willpower. The drive of Vincent, the determined “God child” who knows that he could be caught at any given moment, creates for some highly suspenseful scenes. His struggle depicted in the film is parallel to the most memorable underdog protagonists who all had to overcome their own strife when the odds were heavily against them.

Hawke’s acting is superb; he exudes equal amounts of anticipation and intellect—enough to have you both working your brain and biting your nails. Jude Law and Ernest Borgnine also make for two of the film’s additional notable portrayals. Uma Thurman plays Hawke’s love interest in the picture, and although she isn't allotted as much screen time as one would think, she did get a real life love interest out of making this picture. Gattaca was the start of a long lasting Hollywood relationship between Hawke and Thurman that predictably ended in divorce.

Even though this film falls a hair short of being a “great” film, Gattaca is still worth your time and money. It may be a tad bit predictable and it may contain too many voice-overs and clichés and not enough political background, but nonetheless it is still a picture that is worthy of note and then some. Any picture about genetics that is clever enough to create a title that is made up of each of the abbreviations of the four nitrogenous bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine), which make up a DNA strand, easily earns my recommendation. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004