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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Gattaca

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman
Director: Andrew Niccol
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Alan Arkin, Loren Dean, Jude Law, Gore Vidal, Xander Berkeley, Ernest Borgnine, Blair Underwood, Tony Shalhoub, Elias Koteas

Reviewer Roundup
1.  MrBrown review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

What if the world somehow found a way to make discrimination into a science? That is the provocative question presented by Gattaca, the intriguing and atmospheric debut of writer-director Andrew Niccol.

Those looking for a more effects-laden science fiction film will be disappointed by Gattaca, which centers more on drama than on pricey pyrotechnics. Set in "the not-too distant future," the film is set in a society where one's station in life is determined solely by genetics. Advances in genetic engineering have made natural breeding obsolete; to ensure a promising future for their children, prospective parents turn to geneticists to create their babies in a lab, where they take the most desirable genetic traits of the parents--and weed out their most undesirable--to create a "perfect" child. This genetic elite, called "Valid," are given all the golden opportunities in life--jobs, wealth--while the "In-valids," those created from natural breeding, make up the poor lower class.

One of these "faith children," as they are called, is Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), a precocious young man who dreams of flying to the stars. Even though his genetic makeup makes it impossible for him to realize his dream, he does so anyway--by dealing with a black market DNA broker (Tony Shalhoub), who arranges Vincent to swap places with Jerome Morrow (played with scene-stealing gusto by Jude Law), a valid whose genes are of no use after being paralyzed from the waist down. As Jerome, Vincent builds a successful career at the aeronautics corporation Gattaca and is all set to fly on a mission to Titan, one of Saturn's moons. But after the director of Gattaca is murdered, and an In-valid eyelash is found in the ensuing investigation, it seems like only a matter of time before "Jerome" is exposed.

Much of this material harkens back to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but I must give credit to Niccol, who paints a vivid, funny, yet disturbing portrait of this future society. The best moments come from the little details in the script. For example, when Vincent is born, the doctors can immediately determine his lifespan and what illnesses he is likely to suffer from; In-valids are sometimes referred to by the slur "de-gene-erate"; and some rather curious dating rituals: when Vincent expresses interest in Valid but slightly imperfect colleague Irene (a strangely uninteresting Uma Thurman, in a thankless role), she offers him a strand of her hair for a DNA check and says, "Let me know if you're still interested." Niccol's fascinating vision also extends to the striking cinematography, production and costume design by Slawomir Idziak, Jan Roelfs, and Colleen Atwood, respectively. They obviously did not have a substantially large budget to work with, but they succeed in creating an otherworldly look through minimalism. Buildings are shiny and smooth; people dress up in nice suits; and color is all but absent--everything seems constantly bathed in some shade of grey or silver, perfectly conveying the sense of coldness and lack of passion that dominates this glacial society.

Niccol's attention to detail does not extend, however, to Gattaca's basic plot mechanics, which are rather contrived. The murder mystery plot turns out to be little more than a device to put Vincent in danger of being discovered and does not reach a satisfying conclusion on its own. A supposed plot twist involving one of the murder's investigators (Loren Dean) is predictable and uninspired, and a sibling rivalry subplot explored early in the film between Vincent and his genetically engineered younger brother is revisited later to very little effect; it just serves as an extraneous, redundant underscoring of the point that genetics are not everything. The one relationship that is supposed to lend some warmth to the proceedings, the romance between Vincent and Irene, fails to ignite; Hawke and Thurman may have generated sparks off camera, but very little, if any, of that rapport is displayed onscreen.

When I first saw the trailer for Gattaca, I and a few other people snickered at the terribly banal tagline "There is no gene for the human spirit." As cornball as it is, that simple statement quite effectively sums up the true nature of the film. For all of its big Hollywood sci-fi trappings, Gattaca is essentially an intimate human story, and an unexpectedly moving and inspiring one at that. By the time it is over, one may just find oneself with (somewhat) renewed faith in the human race.

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