Dirs: The Spierig Brothers. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor. Cert 15, 97 min.
Coherence last week, Kumiko, The Duke of Burgundy and Predestination this: gold stars for anyone who makes it through to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel without having their brain scrambled like an egg. Predestination – the Spierig brothers’ adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies” – initially seems straightforward enough: a B-movie reframing of all those “guy walks into a bar” jokes. Caveats, however, apply: the bartender’s a state-trained time traveller, and – biologically speaking – the guy might not be a guy at all.
It is, to say the least, complicated. Beamed back to 1970s New York in the hope of gleaning the whereabouts of a fugitive bomber, the bartender (Ethan Hawke) is, like us, soon distracted by the lengthy sob story shared by an androgynous patron (Sarah Snook) on the lookout for the man who took everything – her child, her internal organs, even her name – from her. Where we’re heading, spoilers lurk, but the barkeep’s mission will become both secondary to and tangled up with hers – or his, as was. Like I said: complicated.
When it needs to, Matthew Putland’s supremely flexible production design zips us from Hawke’s dive bar to crisp, clean Reagan-era NASA hubs and post-War Ohio’s leafy suburbs. Each dateline is decided by the numbers on a battered violin case’s combination lock, probably the priciest time-travel device the Spierigs could afford. Yet there’s rarely any strain on show: as in last year’s choice B Cheap Thrills, a drip-feed script draws us in with the hushed, nocturnal dynamic between lonely barflies before seguing niftily into its anticipated butterfly effects.
Considering these characters are bounced round like pinballs, it’s amazing Hawke and the hitherto unknown Snook gain the emotional traction they do: even those struggling to keep up can’t fail to notice how these two are burnt, figuratively and literally, by their experiences. Future viewings will be required and merited, for towards the centre of this mazy gem, there lies a radical narrative proposal of which the boundary-testing Wachowski siblings would doubtless approve: that the roles of knight in shining armour and damsel in distress may be entirely interchangeable.
Predestination is now playing in cinemas nationwide.