"Predestination" belongs to the class of science-fiction that investigates the human conscience. It's adapted from a Robert Heinlein short story and imbued with the depth expected from a project inspired by one of the genre's great literary minds.
At least that's one way of looking at this new movie from twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig.
Alternatively, one might regard the film as a bit of a gimmick, structured around an elaborate and rather shocking series of revelations that bring the entire premise into focus and render the picture relatively worthless when it comes to a second viewing.
All that is to say that I'm not sure how smart this adaptation of Heinlein's "--All You Zombies--" really is; whether it's destined for cult status down the road or the sort of anonymity usually fated for early January releases.
The story, which can only be revealed in bits and pieces here, concerns a time-traveling agent (Ethan Hawke) empowered to move through the years in order to stop crimes before they happen.
Sounds like "Minority Report," of course, but this angle is actually quite secondary to the surprises that begin to emerge when the agent, called The Barkeep, encounters a character deemed The Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook), who has quite a story to tell.
The Spierigs ("Daybreakers") have concocted a twisting and tight narrative that has much less to do with the mechanics of the plot that it does with the unpacking of what this all means and who these people are on an elemental level. The interior focus offers a particular set of challenges for Snook, an up-and-coming Australian actress who navigates through extraordinarily complicated terrain with the sort of dexterity that indicates the arrival of a great new talent.
The movie is fun, even when it's at its most inexplicable. The filmmakers shepherd through various eras -- primarily the '70s, '60s and '40s -- with exacting detail; it's a trip to see the characters suddenly transition from the earthy tones of one decade to the formal settings of the next.
It's always risky to make a film that shifts and reformulates what it is and what the audience should derive from it straight through the final shot. The filmmakers keep "Predestination" intriguing through that point, even if you're never quite sure exactly what you're watching.
IF YOU GO
Directed by the Spierig Brothers
Starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor