ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Predestination centers on the life of a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) who works for a mysterious organization that sends their members back in time to prevent future killers from committing their crimes. Now, on his final assignment, the Agent must confront the one killer that has eluded him throughout his career and prevent him from committing a devastating attack that will kill thousands of innocent lives.

Predestination is the sorta sci-fi film that comes around every now and then that requires a little more concentration from its viewers than most sci-fi films that come out today. There are no big action setpieces or spectacular visual effects, yet there’s still something big and ambitious in regard to the story and characters being presented here.

Sibling filmmaking duo Michael and Peter Spierig previously made 2010’s Daybreakers (which also starred this film’s star Ethan Hawke), a fresh and intriguing take on the vampire genre that I found to be quite fun. Now they’re tackling time travel, a genre that’s not all that easy to pull off. You always run the risk of falling prey to plot holes, gimmicks, implausibilities, and ripping other similarly themed films, the latter of which would be one of the few downsides to this film. It’s nearly impossible to watch this and not think of either Looper or Minority Report, which Predestination is, in a way, a combination of the two.

Yet, as I just mentioned, this is the type of sci-fi that requires our attention, and the Spierig brothers accomplish that. Adapting from Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies”, the Spierigs stay mostly true to the source material, throwing in a detective thriller element with a time-hopping terrorist known as the “Fizzle Bomber”. While the production element is low-key, the brothers stick to the timeline Heinlein has set (the story was written in 1959) instead of updating the dates, giving the film a futuristic film noir-ish touch that looks great even for its small-scale approach.

As for the story, I really can’t divulge much about it without giving away spoilers. The title and central theme of the film refers to the idea, often talked about in philosophical and religious circles, of predestination – events predetermined to exist outside the realm of freewill. Not all questions the Spierigs pose get answered, but they still make for a more thought-provoking form of genre fare that manages to play with our minds as more and more of the story unfolds. Granted, some of the puzzle pieces you can anticipate coming, but seeing how they all come together is what makes the film so much fun, and it may require a second viewing to see if they really do all fit. If you pay close enough attention, you will be able to pick out certain clues.

Giving the story its depth are Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook, both delivering terrific performances. Hawke is in top form here, bringing soul and empathy to what could’ve been another “agent on a lethal mission” trope set right before our eyes. However, despite Hawke getting top-billing, it’s Snook who steals the show. That’s not to downplay Hawke’s contribution here; both he and Snook are great together, but Snook has by far the most complex role out of the two and she hits it out of the park, displaying a pitch-perfect range of emotions that hit all the right notes. Prior to this film, I was unfamiliar with the Australian actress’s work, but hopefully this shines a spotlight on her for further opportunities.

Predestination may not be breaking new ground with the sci-fi/time travel genre, but the Spierig brothers still have crafted together an engaging mind-twister of a film that features expected strong performance work from Ethan Hawke and a star-making turn from Sarah Snook. While it’s certainly the type of sci-fi that requires more patience from its viewers, forgoing the usual action blockbuster style that most in the genre follow, it’s patience that is well-rewarded as you see the pieces of the story’s puzzle come together in a fun, effective manner.

I give Predestination a B+ (★★★).

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