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on April 21, 2017
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon February 23, 2014
Imagine a world where your future is determined by your genes. Your schools, your job, your social status are all determined by what genetic flaws you have.

Such is the world that we see in "Gattaca," a scarily plausible sci-fi story that examines the implications of eugenics and genetic enhancement. Director Andrew Niccol thankfully never gets too preachy or "uplifting" -- instead he crafts a cleanly elegant story with a murder mystery as the catalyst, and the strong trinity Jude Law, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.

Vincent Freeman (Hawke) is an "invalid," conceived without eugenic technology. On the day he was born, it was predicted that he would be myopic, might be bipolar, and would probably die at thirty from a heart defect. Throughout his life, Vincent dreams of becoming an astronaut, but his genetic status dooms him to menial labor.

The solution: Vincent "buys" the identity and genetic profile of Jerome Eugene Morrow (Law), an Olympic swimmer who broke his back in a car crash. Vincent will pay Jerome, and Jerome will provide him with blood, urine, skin and hair samples.

With Jerome's help, Vincent is accepted into Gattaca Aerospace Corporation, and is chosen for a manned flight to Titan. But when one of the administrators is found murdered, the police find one of Vincent's eyelashes nearby. If they discover who Vincent truly is, he won't just lose his dream -- he'll be convicted of murder.

"Gattaca" is a movie that addresses one of life's great questions -- does destiny determine how we live our lives, or do we decide our own fate? There are no easy answers, but it's always best to err on the side of "we can make our own destiny" -- and this movie is basically all about one man's quest to determine his own fate, DNA be damned.

None of the movies Andrew Niccol has made since "Gattaca" have even come close to this level of skill -- the movie is a slow, elegant winding of murder mystery and philosophical sci-fi. The plot quietly grows in tension as Vincent's life becomes more tangled up in lies and suspicion, with quietly powerful dialogue laced with dry humor ("I guess we can rule out suicide," comments a cop as they bag a bloodied keyboard).

And it's beautifully filmed. Everything is full of clean lines and cold light, with the occasional moment of symbolism -- note that the apartment that Eugene and Vincent share is centered around a giant DNA-style spiral staircase.

And the final puzzle pieces are the actors, who are all really good. Ethan Hawke gives a quietly powerful performance as a man who goes to desperate lengths to fulfill his dreams, and Uma Thurman has the right mix of icy reserve and sweetness as a "valid" woman who falls in love with the man rather than his DNA.

But the best performance is Jude Law. Jerome a truly tragic character, whose genetic perfection wasn't enough to keep disaster away -- he's proof that DNA can't make your life good or rewarding. Law plays him with a mixture of bitter wit and compassion, with perpetually shadowed eyes and a drink always in his hand. You may cheer for Vincent, but your heart will bleed for Jerome.

"Gattaca" is a masterpiece of science fiction -- a richly nuanced, beautifully understated work that reminds you that, no matter where we come from, we can all reach for the stars.
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on June 24, 2004
Gattaca paints a future where the haves are genetically designed and the have-nots are genetically inferior with no hope of advancement. But one young man has a dream. He wants to get into space. To do this he works out and studies as hard as he is able. But all of the hard work does no good. Then he finds a way.
Occasionally one of the haves has an accident. Then it is possible to assume that person's identity armed with genetic traces, blood and urine samples and some creative surgery. Thus armed he is able to enter Gattaca (the organization responsible for space flight) where he wins a position on the mission to Titan. But there is a hitch; a murder. During the investigative sweep one of his eyelashes is found and the search begins in earnest.
Most of the rest of the movie is involved with trying to maintain identity long enough to manage take off. Complicating matters are a Columbo-style detective (Alan Arkin), a love interest (Uma Thurman) and his brother from his old life. In the end it comes down to a simple idea. Many of the haves know a have-not (be it a child, sibling or whatever) who they have had to abandon and our hero represents the one ray of hope that these people can have. So just as he is discovered, the discoverers each have a reason to not turn him in and he begins the mission to Titan.
Gattaca, with its heavy detective cat-and-mouse, could be the successor to Alfred Bester's THE DEMOLISHED MAN. This was a very well made film with a good story, characters, acting and pacing. There were excellent performances from many of the cast including author Gore Vidal. If you like your films with a bit of thought then this is one you should look out for.
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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.
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HALL OF FAMEon June 27, 2003
Gattaca is a fascinating science fiction/mystery movie, set in the 'not too distant future', in which astronauts dress in stylish, roaring-twenties inspired clothing and where the world seems to be finely ordered and sequenced, just like a genetic code.
In fact, it is the genetic code which determines all. Test-tube babies are the norm for anyone who wants to have a chance; screening out imperfections has become routine, and those who have the misfortune of being born outside the system of genetic checks and balances will find themselves invalid (in-valid in the sense of not valid for work, as well as invalid in the sense of incapacitated for advancement). Society has been structured around a pre-defined sense of potential as projected by genetic codes. But there are a few who challenge the system.
Meet Vincent, a.k.a. Jerome Morrow (played by Ethan Hawke), who dreams of the stars and lusts for a position at Gattaca (the new-age NASA), but with the genetic code of a loser. Enter Jerome Morrow, a.k.a. Eugene (played by Jude Law), who has the potential, but also a broken spinal cord -- he lends Vincent, through an ingenious and intricate system, his genetic sequence. In this guise, Vincent thus rises to the position of navigator, selected for the great Titan/Saturn mission.
Then, the director gets murdered. A flake of skin falls from Vincent which the investigators find, and the chase is on. The launch is a week away. Will Vincent outrun the pursuers in time?
Of course, Vincent's pursuers are led by his brother, the genetically-planned offspring of the family, who thought that Vincent was dead. There is an ultimate contest, which Vincent wins, proving the victory of determination over pre-determination.
Vincent, in the person of Jerome, falls in love with Irene (played by Uma Thurman), who works at Gattaca in a sort of genetic quality-control position. She falls in love the potential, the idea of Jerome, but eventually comes to love the imperfect Vincent. She herself, for all the genetic planning, also has an imperfection, which makes her all the more attractive to Vincent.
Gore Vidal has a small but crucial role as a flight director in charge of keeping things on track (with style!) as the murder investigation threatens the operations at Gattaca.
This movie is a visually interesting, unique, and much under-rated and under appreciated show. It won awards for art direction and other stylistic touches, including the Oscar.
I won't spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that Vincent and Jerome both leave the earth.
'For someone never meant for this world, I must confess, I'm suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say that every atom of our body was once part of a star. Maybe I'm not leaving. Maybe I'm going home.'
Interestingly, the idea of genetics is woven into the movie in very many ways, some subtle, some explicit. The very title, Gattaca, consists of the strands of bases that comprise the double helix of DNA G (guanine), A (adenine), C (cytosine), and T (thymine) -- the sequence of these bases constitutes genetic information, much as the arrangement of the 26 letters of this alphabet constitutes information.
This is a clever film, a bit slow, but stylish, suspenseful, wonderfully visual, and well worth a weekend evening investment.
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on December 19, 2002
Granted, Gattaca certainly tries to be all things to all people - it sells itself variously as a Philip K. Dick-esque sci-fi, as a Tense Political Thriller, an Edgy Romance, even as a Rumination on Filial Love and Obligation - but in my book it fails badly on every count. I am clearly in the minority on this, so I had better explain.
From the opening sequence, something is clearly amiss: I mean, extreme close-ups of exfoliated skin and toenail clippings, anyone?
Thereafter, things do not improve.
First off, the sci-fi premise is flimsy (it's a rap on the genetically programmed to be perfect humans vs. "human" humans debate: where "human" humans have become "invalid" citizens, electronically tagged and shut out mainstream society of perfectly engineered "valid" humans. But, you would think, if there is sufficient technology to eradicate human flaws at conception, then surely someone must clever enough to fix them later in life too, no?).
The special effects team (who, in fairness, didn't have much to do other than the aforementioned toenail clipping close-ups and the odd distant rocket launch) seem to have missed the last 35 years in development of special effects.
The brother vs. brother thread is schmaltz (the whole relationship can be summed up, apparently, by who was the better swimmer when they were boys), ... Good grief.
What else... oh yes, the lack of chemistry between Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke beggars belief (Thurman looks continually as if the very sight of Hawke gives her the screaming heebie jeebies), and the thriller/whodunnit piece does not import a sense of drama into the proceedings. And boy does the film need it.
The only saving grace is Jude Law, who seems to make his living these days propping up dreadful films with solid performances (see A.I. and The Road To Perdition in this regard), and who at the critical moment in the film, performs a very deft ascent of a spiral staircase without using his legs.
That is to be commended, however bad the rest of the experience.
Olly Buxton
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on June 4, 2001
Andrew Niccol, who wrote the screenplay for The Truman Show (1998), directs this superior sci-fi from his own script. The result is a well-plotted, character-driven science fiction thriller for intelligent viewers, a pleasing combination of worthiness not always associated with the genre. This is science fiction that will play with mainstream audiences as well as with afficionados. From Michael Nyman's beautiful and complementary musical score to the clever opening credits in which the letter codes, "g, a, t, c" (for the chemical bases of DNA--thus the movie's title) shimmer and glow in the names of those credited, everything in the movie is professionally done. There is little violence and virtually no sex. I would say this is a perfect flick for the kids except for the embedded "ads" for cigarettes and booze that mar some of the early scenes.
Ethan Hawke stars as the genetically-challenged Vincent Freeman, an "In-Valid" conceived in the back seat of a Buick Riviera instead of through the fine art of the genetic engineers who now dominate society. His dream is to go into space, but his genes, in this meritocracy based on genetic endowment, fit him only for cleaning the bathrooms. Yet he has a monstrous drive to succeed, and when he strikes a deal with the genetically superior Jerome Morrow, a "valid" who is in a wheel chair with paralyzed legs, to use his identity, body fluids, hair samples and urine to fool the genetic screening devices of the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation, he is ready to fulfill his dream.
Uma Thurman plays his love interest. Her statuesque beauty and her exotic features are perfect for the part of a futuristic babe in a retro fifties landscape of gray flanneled over achievers. (Actually they aren't gray in dress, but in their uniform adherence to the corporate mentality.) Jude Law as Jerome, the wheel-chair bound "Valid," is perhaps the star performer, bringing subtlety and a bitter, but somehow uplifting verisimilitude to the role. A puffed up Gore Vidal (who incidentally once wrote, "after forty the death watch") is Director Josef, and Alan Arkin is a street wise homicide investigator from another era.
The interesting question asked by this movie is, could a caste system based on genetic endowment be our future? My vision of the future is that of a "brown society" in which everyone strives to be the same, but in which small subtle differences of appearance are increasingly appreciated. If every movie star looked like, say Jennifer Lopez, however beautiful she is, I would nonetheless find particular delight in a Penélope Cruz or an occasional Reese Witherspoon. This sort of pressure would keep some variety in the gene pool. I also think that a society in which the genetic endowment of its members is too widely separated can only lead to class hatreds resulting in violent conflict and ultimately genocide, most likely by fiat, so that the survivors will be genetically rather similar. Possibly humanoid types will be genetically engineered to do the baser work of society. These creatures may be thought of as organic robots, not as bonafide members of society, thereby raising another question, what is it to be human? A society greatly stratified in terms of wealth can exist, as the present society shows, but a society in which the difference between haves and the have-nots is too great is not stable and eventually leads to revolution (there being a limit to the number of people that can be put in prison). Furthermore, as this movie suggests, just which qualities of character, appearance and/or ability are the most valuable? And when such qualities become abundant, might we then have a need for other qualities now made scarce? Finally, as is asked of the notion of I.Q: "intelligence for what?" Is it more powerful in an evolutionary sense to be "intelligent" or to be healthy? Is it more adaptive to have a powerful drive to succeed, or a powerful urge to procreate? Tough questions that the very talented Andrew Niccol might consider when making his next movie.
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on July 11, 2002
Gattaca (PG-13) ****/5
Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Alan Arkin, Jude Law, Loren Dean.
Directed by: Andrew Niccol.
Synopsis: In the future where genes control who you become a young man switches places with one of the elite.
Special Features: None! This is a Super-Bit disc.
Review: In a world where genes control everything about your life a young man who thinks he can be more switches place with a crippled elite. However people begin to suspect something may be wrong. A deep, cautionary drama Gattaca may be slow moving, but it is beautiful. There is a lot to get out of this film, prejudice, being more than people tell you, and sibling rivalry are just a few. This film often dallies in unimportant things, but for the most part this is a stunning Sci-fi/drama/romance. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law are in top form. The rest of the cast complements them splendidly. Andrew Niccol proves he is a director with places to go, but he may want to work on his pacing. As for the DVD? Superbit sacrifices special features for picture and sound and for a film like Gattaca I appreciate that.
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on May 12, 1999
...........How realistic this movie is. It doesn't go into a farfetched future where you say "wow that would be cool, or that sucks". Sort of like Fifth Element or Judge Dredd, Those movies not only sucked but you really did not care what happened to the characters because it was a sci-fi movie. Gattaca is NOT like that. It takes place in a future not to distant where everything that happens is very damn possible within the next 50-100 years. So you sit there in disbelief at how *f'd* up that future is. I think this movie deserves to be seen by everyone with any type of intelligence to understand where our society is going.
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on December 27, 2002
Andrew Niccols' "Gattaca" takes place in a "not so distant future," but like all serious science fiction works, it is a commentary about the present. In its stylishly sequenced narrative, reminiscent of a honey-washed and glowing photo spread in an old issue of Life magazine, or the best of a high-end merchandizing catalog, it is also a passionate tribute to the romantic notion that the human spirit is, and always will be, beyond the icy grip of science.
The film tells the story of the allegorically named Vincent Freeman(Ethan Hawke) who sets out to follow his dream of space travel, even though he was born the "old-fashioned" way, which renders him genetically flawed. As such, he is forced to work in low-level occupations, the fate of all "In-Valids," who represent the untouchables of that not-so-distant-future in which genetic engineering has replaced the divisive powers formerly held only by wealth alone. Vincent, resourceful because of his spirit -- for which there is no gene, as the movie's tagline suggests -- finds a way to make his dreams a reality, though not without the help of a disabled "Valid" (Jude Law). The "Valid," Jerome, who lends Vincent his identity, as well as regular samples of his blood, urine, and other genetic identifiers used in monitoring society's privileged caste, while in possession of superior genes, lacks the one thing that transforms dreams into reality: the spirit of ambition -- or the desire to conquer the universe.
Ironically, it may have been that very same romantic ambition of the human spirit, which drives Vincent towards the stars, that brought the deadening "perfection" of the tightly controlled world of "Gattaca" into being in the first place -- but that's more of a comment on the nature of romanticism, rather than on this movie. I bring this up mostly because of the Wagnerian tones in the soundtrack, which was composed and arranged by Michael Nyman. The relentless striving apparent in the themes of the music gives the movie another critical dimension in which to build its vision of the triumphs of the human spirit over the soulless rigors of science.
The acting in this movie is superb, not in least because of the stress on the ensemble of actors over individual performances as such. There is a great deal of power in the subtly restrained acting styles of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman in their respective roles. Having said that, it seems to me that Jude Law's performance as the "Valid" Jerome, who has everything but that one important passion to hold it all together, stands out because of his understanding that this character is perhaps more interesting than the genetically flawed Vincent, who has but a single all-consuming -- and therefore, limiting -- ambition. Jude Law's performance in this movies foreshadows his performance in Spielberg's A.I.
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