Chances are you haven't seen - or maybe even heard of - Predestination. I'm not entirely sure when its planned release date is for wider markets, nor am I sure why it was released in New Zealand in mid-September, smack bang in the middle of an extreme dry spell at the multiplex. If you want a quick debrief on the film: its touted as a time-travel thriller directed by the Spierig Brothers (who last directed the equally underseen 2010 vampire flick Daybreakers) and stars man of the moment Ethan Hawke and breakout star Sarah Snook. I suggest watching the trailer so it becomes a little clearer as to why this movie is a little different and surprising, as it is the complete opposite to what they're selling.
It isn't a new phenomenon to have the trailer ramp up the intensity of the action to draw in the masses, nor is it new to have a trailer totally misrepresent a movie. What happens when a movie is totally unsellable, though? Because that's what Predestination is - something that can't be easily packaged into an appealing marketing ploy. Yes, it's a time travel thriller. But it has more in common with Philomena than Looper. So take that as you will.
For a relatively short 90 minute running time, the film spends the first hour explaining the story of someone who isn't Ethan Hawke - even though he is marketed as the main star of the film (again, not unusual for marketing to play up a star who has been around since the 90s, but you'd be surprised about how long it takes for his character to become anything important). Instead, we focus on the 'Unmarried Mother', played by Sarah Snook, who's story takes centre stage in the film and surprisingly isn't about time travel at all. The last half an hour finally gets to the time travel stuff you were wondering about originally, and all of a sudden the film transcends into a Looper-like, spirally thriller that eventuates into something that is a little predictable. You could say that the element of time travel - or just time itself (similar to what Interstellar did) - does gel together both of the different plots/different films and kind of makes it into something that undoes the cynicism the film begins with. It has been a little while since I saw it, but all I can remember saying about the film directly after walking out of the theatre was that it was 'a big ideas film.' Most of them centre around the character of the Unmarried Mother, some of them play with time, along with an element of revenge that is used to propel the plot. You could say that the film punches above its weight in its short running time, but it also manages to feel a lot longer than the 90 minutes. That's not to say that it is boring, it is just so unexpectedly strange.
The problem with the film isn't that it was marketed to be something that it wasn't. It certainly isn't that the film is completely unsellable from a marketing point of view. I just think this film is an interesting experiment on audience expectations. Time travel films usually always end up the same - and yes, this film does wind up being the same by the end - and Predestination throws a new element (or character) into the mix brings her centre stage. It probably wouldn't have worked had it not been for the masterful performance by Sarah Snook, who crafts such an intricately multi-faceted character with ease. Looking for that apparently elusive 'well-written female character'? Look no further than this, and be amazed by the stellar work by Snook. It's a performance so other-worldly that it doesn't feel like it belongs in a supposed simple film about time travel. Looking back on it, this highlighted again how I felt about the strangeness of this film. It is so unique, only to fall back into something so predictable. It is so close to being something great before it does a 180-degree flip into the same paradoxical loop of time travel tropes. I'd say that Predestination is an interesting experiment in genre-bending. It mostly works. But its willingness to easily fall into normal audience expectations after completely shattering them was a little disappointing.
So yes - I'm not exactly sure of how to easily sum up Predestination for an Ethan Hawke fan or someone looking for Looper 2.0 or anyone who wants to see some classic stylish gun-toting. In fact, I'm not sure of how I could sum up Predestination for anyone. Which I guess means that Predestination was pretty successful considering most films these days can be summed up by a simple sentence.