Top critical review
on February 11, 2004
The world of this movie was never meant for one as deficient genetically as this Vincent, we are given to understand. In this nearish future, genetic design is depicted as at least a frequent occurrence, perhaps even the norm. Vincent was conceived normally and brings into the world a daunting catalogue of infirmities, summed up in a life-expectancy of 30 years, low by even the standards of certain far eastern counties today. This does not sit well with his consuming ambition to travel into space, and the film builds a collection of different plots and sub-plots around this basic quandary.
To start with what is particularly good about Gattaca, the sets are striking. They create a 'futuristic' aura very successfully, so much so that they they actually forced my attention on to what I believe to be one aspect of the film's main weakness, namely the plot or plots - Vincent's basic dilemma does not require a future setting at all. If he had been a weakling trying to get into a career in, say, sport or the armed services in 2004 that would have dealt with the issue just as well. The other thing that is distinctly good, in a certain kind of way, is the acting. When Gore Vidal, of all people, makes an early entrance in the role of Director, I reflected momentarily that I had never seen him acting before. In an instant I had corrected myself - I have never seen Vidal not acting. He acts a persona of his own creating whenever he appears on the media, and it is no surprise that he carries off his film role so convincingly. The Director is a far simpler personality that the real-life Gore Vidal. The three main roles are taken by Ethan Hawke as Vincent, Jude Law as the crippled but genetically perfect Jerome, and Uma Thurman as Irene. Like the Director, the characters are schematic and line-drawn, and such as they are they are very well done. The trouble, I hate to say, is the plotting.
Not only is the basic setting not really required, the theme of Vincent's physical frailty actually has nothing to do with the ethical question of designer-vs-natural conception either. These threads are separate strands thrown into a single bag, so to speak, but not woven together. In much the same way the murder investigation, which threatens to blow Vincent's cover and reveal his clever DNA exchange with Jerome, is very loosely integrated with the main action - anything of that kind would have taken only the smallest mischance to come to light, and the efforts of the investigators make the quest for certain weapons in Iraq even as I write look a model of competence. It all left me not even needing to make a willing supension of disbelief at how an impoverished janitor obtained the funds first to pay the rapacious clandestine transgenetics operator and second to pay his way though the Gattaca induction programme. To cap it all, there is a further sub-plot of sibling rivalry between Vincent and his eugenic younger brother Anton, which must be important, I have to assume, as one of their periodic swimming contests takes place at the climactic stage of the story. And of course there is a love-theme as well, in case the film ran out of themes.
I suppose this could hardly be called a rave-notice, and I fully admit that the film at least held my attention. It is not a bad film by any means, but the nearer in time to us that such an action is supposed to take place the harder it is to keep one's normal rational faculties switched off.