This movie is the best kind of crazy.
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I know what you're thinking.
You're thinking that any movie hitting theaters in January that hasn't already had an Oscar-qualifying run in 2014 has got to be a total joke. Ethan Hawke as some sort of time-traveling secret agent? Co-starring some chick named Sarah Snook—who the hell is that? This. Cannot. Be Good.
I hear you, because those were the exact same thoughts I had going into Predestination. Except that I'm a total sucker for any and all things related to time travel, and I thought the trailer looked halfway decent. Hope sprung eternal.
And now I am happy to report that I loved this movie. I loved it because it is one of the most messed-up things I have watched in quite a while. I loved it because it made me think. I loved it because the Spierig brothers (Daybreakers, also starring Hawke), who both wrote and directed, were not afraid to trust that their audience would (eventually) be able to follow what in the eff was going on. I loved it because just now while writing this review, more than 30 days after my screening, another piece of its puzzle-within-a-puzzle fell into place in my head. I loved it for being twisted enough to go there.
Yes, Ethan Hawke IS some sort of time-traveling secret agent. The movie opens with him trying to catch a baddie known as "The Fizzle Bomber" (lame name, everyone agrees). The Fizzle Bomber is going to kill 11,000 people in New York City by leveling several blocks with one of his signature explosives. This is going to happen in March of 1975.
Hawke's Agent works for the Temporal Bureau, which sends its employees back in time to prevent crimes. The Fizzle Bomber is Agent's nemesis. He just has to nab this guy before he's forced into retirement.
Agent becomes The Bartender while he's back in the '70s, waiting around for the chance to leave his unusual career on a high note. One night a guy comes into the bar and, after a few drinks, bets The Bartender a bottle of the good stuff that he has the the most incredible life story anyone's ever heard. The Bartender is intrigued, and so the man begins at the beginning. About 60% of the rest of the film (which was a little too drawn-out for my taste) is spent switching between extensive flashbacks from the man's life and "the present day" in the bar.
There are many twists in Predestination. The entire thing is a total mind trip. However, the first of those twists is something this vehemently-anti-spoiler critic feels comfortable sharing, because the "reveal" was pretty damn obvious from the get-go. Perhaps it's because I have resided for nearly twenty years in one of the most gloriously diverse neighborhoods in the country, but I've seen it all, and I knew right away that the man at the bar hadn't always been a man. Which he admits very early in his conversation with The Bartender. The man was abandoned at birth, raised in an orphanage as "Jane," and then did indeed go on to have what The Bartender agrees was a most extraordinary life, only recently becoming "John."
I'm being stingy with other plot details because I am confident that the less you know about this film, the better your experience will be. Suffice it to say that there's clearly a reason John and The Bartender's paths have crossed, and The Bartender sees an opportunity for John to help him bring down the Fizzle Bomber. (SERIOUSLY with that name.)
This film has one of the biggest oh-HELLS-no-are-they-really-going-to-go-there-no-way-are-you-serious-what-tha-whoa-they-actually-went-there twists in recent memory. Some people are not going to be able to roll with it and therefore will not be able to tolerate the remainder of the story. I like especially freaky stuff and actually got much more engaged after that particular mind-bender. But I just wanted to be upfront that it's not for everyone.
If you're even remotely intrigued at this point, here's why you really need to see this film: Sarah Snook's performance. I pretty much always enjoy Ethan Hawke, so it was no surprise that I thought he was perfect for this role. And yeah, maybe Snook is not really so great at playing a sketchy dude in a bar, but in the flashback sequences as Jane, this woman is just remarkable. The Bartender and his customer John are not characters one really warms up to. But Jane. Oh, Jane. You will fall in love with Jane. Your heart will break for Jane. You will be enraged by what happens to Jane. Who the hell is Sarah Snook? I really hope that's a question no one will be asking much longer.
Presdestination is currently in select theaters and On Demand.