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USA 1997
Directed by
Andrew Niccol
112 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Although debut writer-director Andrew Niccol's sci-fi fantasy is very stylish looking, there is a gimpy quality about it, not to mention a sloppiness in the narrative that undermines its ostensibly thoughtful surface.

The story is set in the not-too-distant future when people can genetically engineer their offspring. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) was conceived the old-fashioned way (in the back of a car) and as a result, his rather ordinary genetic inheritance disqualifies him from realizing his life’s ambition, to join a space program. So he arranges to swap identities with Jerome (Jude Law), a tip-top specimen of the new genetically-engineered generation, who has become paraplegic as the result of an accident, and using the latter’s identity Vincent gets accepted to the program. But then the program director is found bashed to death and the resulting investigation threatens to blow his cover.

Despite the intimidatingly futuristic (with a 50s twist) trappings and sophisticated gadgetry, Gattaca is a straightforward story of a dweeb who, due to indefatigable determination, beats the system, gets the girl (Uma Thurman) and the million dollar prize (a trip to Titan). That is, it's not really about the future or ethics so much as the director’s wish-fulfilling response to life's inequities.

This is reflected in the plotting which conveniently has Vincent inexorably transcend every obstacle in his way. One of the core questions is how his elaborate subterfuge is financed since at outset Vincent is working as janitor. Then one might ask why, if the real Jerome is such a fine specimen, he has a drinking problem and suicidal tendencies? One might ask why, given the plethora of chemical solutions and forms of forensic detection available, anyone would bash the director to death in his own office, alone with a computer keyboard,  And why, given that Vincent and Jerome look completely unalike, does no-one notice? . There are lots of other smaller questions (like, how can Vincent’s eyesight be so bad that he can’t cross the road) but all are symptomatic of the superficiality that is also the film’s main strength largely thanks to the work of cinematographer, Slawomir Idziak. The film always looks good. Or nearly always, as Niccol fumbles badly the consummation of Vincent’s romance with Irene, jump cutting from the pair huddle in an alley to them between the sheets with the surf pounding in the background, but one instance of the kind of broad glossing which becomes more frequent in the film's latter stages as the plot grows increasingly glib in tying up its narrative strands.

FYI:  For thematically-related material more rigorously realized check out MIchael Winterbottom’s Code 46 (2003), Niccol, a New Zealander, wrote Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998).




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