Predestination Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor. Directed by Peter and Michael Spierig. Rated R. Available on Video on Demand.
Predestination opens like a fast-paced action thriller, with a gun battle between an agent of a time-travelling police force and a crazed bomber intent on killing thousands. But once that agent heads back to the future, having been defeated and disfigured by an explosion, the movie reveals itself as a mind-bending piece of intellectual sci-fi and a carefully crafted character study. Much of the movie focuses on a conversation between the unnamed time-travel agent (Ethan Hawke), now stationed as a bartender in 1970 New York City, and a patron known as John (Sarah Snook), whose backstory unfolds in flashback.
Of course, John’s story turns out to be integral to the agent’s mission, and the twists in his tale all tie together neatly by the end. Some of those twists are pretty easy to figure out, but Snook’s fantastic, heartfelt performance makes her character’s arc fascinating even if you know exactly where it’s headed. Writer-directors Peter and Michael Spierig added the crazed-bomber angle to the original short story by Robert A. Heinlein, and while that element doesn’t quite work, the rest of Predestination is a clever and surprisingly affecting reminder that sci-fi doesn’t need overblown action to keep audiences intrigued.