Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Retro Review: GATTACA (1997)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW where we take a trip back in time to look at films made before the year 2000.  Today we review the 1997 sci-fi thriller, GATTACA.  Enjoy!

While trying to decide what film to watch for this week's Retro Review, I wanted to watch something I had seen, but not in a while.  That's when I came across my DVD copy of Gattaca.  This is a film I haven't seen in several years, and I figured with this year being the 20th anniversary of the film, what better time than now. And I was right.  I had forgotten just how much I loved this film.  And unlike most older films, this one still holds up and may even be more relevant today than it was twenty years ago.

Gattaca is a sci-fi thriller starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman.  It's set in the "not so distant future" where eugenics is the standard way of life, where potential children are conceived through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents.  The film tells the story of a genetically inferior man named Vincent (Hawke), who dreams of becoming an astronaut.  However, because he was conceived without the use of genetic manipulation, his chances of this are slim to none.  So he "rents" the identity of a genetically superior man named Jerome (Law) who was in an accident, and begins the process of making his dreams come true.  But that dream proves to be harder and more dangerous to achieve than it seems.

I actually just discovered that this was the directing and writing debut for Andrew Niccol.  You may know his name as he also wrote the fantastic Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show, and wrote and directed the Nicolas Cage film, Lord of War, among other things.  Niccol did a wonderful job of building this world that is obviously in the future, but still seems plausible even twenty years after it was released.  Eugenics in sci-fi is not a unique premise, but here it was done in a unique way.

It was a very emotional story.  From the beginning, when you are shown how Vincent's father is too ashamed to give his child his own name, to the scene when Jerome must drag himself up the stairs, which was hard to watch on an emotional level, this film grabs you in so many ways that I find it hard to believe that someone wouldn't be able to connect with it in some way.  And then there's the ending, which I won't spoil, but what I will say about it is that it was such a fantastic, yet heartbreaking way to end the film.  I had honestly forgotten how it ended, so it hit me just as hard as the first time I had watched it, if not more so.

Ethan Hawke and Jude Law were great in this film, and had great chemistry together.  Their scenes with one another were some of the best in the whole film.  Hawke was a definite highlight for me, with one of my favorite scenes being his beach scene.  It really showed Vincent's need to keep this life he built and how determined he was to do so.  It was a scene with no dialogue, but Hawke's performance made it powerful.  But unfortunately, not everyone had this kind of success in their performance.  Uma Thurman played the role a bit wooden, in my opinion.  Now, it's possible that it's because that's what the character called for, but nonetheless, it just didn't click for me.

Gattaca is a very poignant science fiction film.  All good sci-fi tries to relate to current day issues, and in this film's case, the ever present issue of discrimination takes center stage.  It seems that no matter how advanced of a civilization we have, anyone who is different (whether it's skin color, sexual orientation, or as shown here, genetics) will suffer some sort of prejudice, an issue that has escalated as of recent.  And Niccol delves into this in such a perfect way.

This film also had a great score that paired beautifully with every scene.  It pulled at the heartstrings when needed and made you tense when it called for it.  And, it's even got a nice little twist toward the end that I had also forgotten.

So, if you're looking for a really good, really solid sci-fi film, definitely give Gattaca a watch.  You won't be disappointed.

The Merc's Score: 8.5/10

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