by Brad Nelson
This is a stylish, slightly artsy-fartsy, film about seizing or creating your own destiny instead of passively accepting what others have told you it should be or already is. It’s a film about stickin’ it to The Man and circumventing the Big Brother state. It’s about the size of the fight in the dog rather than the size of the dog in the fight. And all this is packaged in minimalist sci-fi splendor. This is a thinker’s picture, and a good-looking one at that. There’s very little camera shaking going on. It lives or dies on that rare commodity called acting. And I think this picture is very much alive.
Ethan Hawke is a “God” child — a de-gene-erate. He is a child conceived the old-fashioned way (sex) in a culture in which parents normally sit down with their doctor and fine-tune the test-tube genes to erase as much imperfection as possible. And the filmmakers reflect this mindset in the art direction by portraying an antiseptic and too-ordered world. It’s a world obsessed with genes. Your destiny is written in them. If you have good ones, any door is open to you. If you have mediocre ones, well, plan on being a janitor for the rest of your life, or maybe a cop.
Sound absurd? It isn’t. It’s scarily real. Whole peoples regularly go to war with each other over ethnic or tribal differences, which is often but going to war over a different set of superficial genes, by proxy. In Gattaca, the focus of racism is displaced from external appearances to internal. Once your genes are pronounced as superior (and, sadly, the movie barely explores how this is defined), your outward appearances barely count at all. It’s an interesting twist on prejudice.
Ethan Hawke defies both his supposed genetic determinism and the society that has come to think only in those terms. He partners with Jude Law (who is among the genetically superior, but who is now a paraplegic due to an accident) to fool the system. This is one of Law’s best films, and one of his earliest. Before he became somewhat a caricature of himself, he was a fresh face, and he solidly grounds this film with his pathetic, and sometimes cynical, portrayal of a man who judges himself harshly for not living up to the image of superiority that society deemed was his merely by birth.
Rounding out a superb cast are Uma Thurman, a co-worker and love interest of Hawke’s, and the plucky Alan Arkin as Detective Hugo. Along with Minority Report and The Matrix, I put Gattaca among the best sci-fi films in the last 15 years. The concept is interesting and extraordinarily thought-provoking even as the actual sci-props and settings themselves are rather minimalist. This is a movie that holds your attention (if it holds your attention) with human personality, not technological gadgetry. 3.8 urine bags out of 5. • (824 views)