Dir: Andrew Niccol
I can’t believe I hadn’t gotten around to seeing this sooner, it’s so my kind of film, a quality sci-fi with an interesting premise and well developed storyline. When I watched it a few weeks ago I thought it was surprising how current certain things felt, then this week with the news that gene technology is on the verge of use it has become more timely than ever before.
In a future where everything in life is decided for you based on the strength of your genes, one man (Ethan Hawke) refuses to be limited by his flawed DNA, and takes on another identity, but a murder at his work threatens to uncover his secret and ruin everything he has given everything to achieve.
The film states it’s set in the ‘not too distant future’ and that seems true, pretty much all the sci-fi elements shown are essentially possible, lots are very close in form or purpose to realities seen now. For example the electric cars, even the method of charging is so similar to how it’s actually done now. Smart watches are another example, though not precisely the same the principle of them is shown in a form we can recognise. Now in the news the past few days there have been items stating that there’s not just the ability to conduct gene altering science but the exact ethics of it are being hotly discussed at a conference this week, as it’s no longer science fiction or theory but current fact and potential near-future practice.
The film also takes on murder mystery element, with no dramatic irony of the audience knowing who is the murderer. I felt it does the right thing by keeping that unknown for the majority of the film, and the way things transpire add a nice bit of intrigue. It’s not over-reliant on the science fiction but has this extra aspect that adds a familiar backbone to the plot and keeps things formed around that as a basic structure upon which the more inventive elements are built.
There’s a surprisingly good cast. In the lead role is Ethan Hawke (‘Boyhood’), an actor who can often go unnoticed, yet for this role that perceived weakness is the strength of his casting as that’s exactly what’s needed. Uma Thurman plays his colleague and love interest, an important enough role is served by her character though I didn’t find her particularly interesting.
To me, Jude Law’s role is by far the most fascinating. His character (I’m avoiding saying too much here) starts out as a reluctant co-conspirator at first, going through a great deal until his relationship with the lead is more of an unlikely but supportive partnership. I found his story, the way it highlights issues in their society, as well as how Law portrays the character and his development to be really captivating and raised the film to another level in my mind.
Director Andrew Niccol often works in the sci-fi genre, and he seems to be good at it. This makes a fascinating companion piece to Niccol’s later ‘In Time’, another film that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. This however is now my favourite of his films that I’ve seen and it makes me want to seek out his latest film also starring Ethan Hawke, ‘Good Kill’, that while not a sci-fi I fully expect to handle an interesting subject in a well thought out way.
Although it’s approaching 20 years old, rather than looking badly dated in the most part this film has now just come of age. What was considered the ‘not too distant future’ of science fiction is now the imminent future of reality, and so I feel now is a good time if you’ve not seen this already (or even if you have) to watch it, it’s easily available on DVD or Netflix and well worth seeing.