a critiQal film review Gattaca (1997)

Plot: In the not too distant future, genetics is used at birth to determine everything about you: where you can work, how long you will live, what your achievements will be - everything. Determined to get his chance at going to the top, imperfect -gened Vincent (Hawke) meets up with Jerome (Law), who has perfect genes - but isn't going anywhere, thanks to a car accident that left him without the use of his legs. Now, Vincent must become Jerome - and make sure not one single cell of his own is ever found.

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  • ...does raise questions within the viewer's mind, but fails to provide the significant fear of this "Brave New World" that they wanted to portray.

Gattaca was one of those movies I’d heard about over the years (it came out in ’97), but never had the opportunity to check out. For awhile, the idea of seeing Ethan Hawke in anything after seeing the atrocious duo of Reality Bites and Before Sunrise almost back to back. Then, recently, Heather and I decided to watch Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) together, and Hawke surprised me by not doing so badly, acting-wise.

With a newfound interest in Hawke’s acting (and trying to understand the infatuation director Quentin Tarantino has with Uma Thurman), I decided to finally check out Gattaca. Would I be glad to finally watch this undiscovered gem, or should I have trusted my first instincts and stayed far away from this Hawke/Thurman sci-fi flick?

In Gattaca, Ethan Hawke seemed to be at a stage in his film career where he was uncomfortable being on-screen. The roles he’d taken on before this (including the two above-mentioned atrocities) seemed to try to put him at ease by letting him hide behind an unbelievably large pile of grease. In this film, he had to face the cameras head-on, and shed that greasy hideaway. He didn’t do that bad of a job. He seemed uncomfortable in his own skin, but considering his character was trying to pretend to be someone else, that actually helped the film. His acting still needed some work (of which he has gotten some -but more won’t ever hurt him), but turned in a decent enough performance for this film.

Uma Thurman, Tarantino’s new “it” girl (Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)) does a decent enough job in Gattaca, but nothing to really write home about. If Quentin had used this film to choose his new girl, Uma would have been passed over (come to think of it, what film did Quentin look at that made him choose Uma? Or did he just pick her because of her unique name?).

Jude Law is the real stand-out of Gattaca, portraying the crippled Jerome with ease. He gives the character a great width and depth of personality, despite less screen time than either Hawke or Uma. His character is easily the most fleshed-out of the film, and gives the movie a bit of heart that it desperately needs. Unfortunately, that’s the only heart this cold, sterile film has, as the chemistry between Hawke and Thurman is almost non-existent.

At a time when it seemed we were on the brink of creating cloned humans by the tank-load, the idea of a society solely based on genes went straight to the heart of our fears. Nowadays, with the new breakthroughs in science that are constantly occurring, and a cloned sheep under our belt, that world seems to be closer than ever, so the viewer will continue to be interested in the topic of Gattaca for years to come. But, Gattaca doesn’t do this future world the justice it should have.

The filmmakers did a nice job of pinpointing every detail when it came to the process of selecting humans, but unfortunately, left pretty much everything else as it was. Is this a commentary on how a genetically perfect society will eventually stagnate because of it’s lack of free-thinkers? One would like to think so, but unfortunately that’s probably not the case here. Gattaca looks to be a bit thrown together, like something you would see on a made-for-TV film, rather than a big budget movie production.

Depsite it’s flaws, Gattaca does raise questions within the viewers mind, but fails to provide the significant fear of this “Brave New World” that they wanted to portray. Dark City (1998) is a much better example of a Utopian society that is horribly marred. Gattaca comes in like the ugly cousin of Dark City (1998), without that film’s acting performances or the way that film is able to completely submerge the viewer into their world (and takes much longer to try).

My advice to those of you planning a dystopian movie night: watch Gattaca just for Jude Law’s performance, and then take a trip into the Dark City (1998) afterward. That way, you’ll be able to check out Jude Law’s performance…and Dark City (1998) will seem even better after you suffer through the rest of Gattaca.

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