Andrew Nicol’s “Gattaca” has a compelling premise – the “not-to distant future” is a world where your genetics determine your socioeconomic position. With predictive calculations deciding life expectancy and other potential health risks drawn from one’s very genetic code, discrimination lies much deeper than the skin’s surface.
Ethan Hawke plays a man conceived “out of love” – normal sex as opposed to having been genetically engineered (his father in the film, Toronto’s own Elias Koteas, has been seen in “Crash” and Egoyan’s “Exotica”.). He finds himself at the short end of the genetic stick, fighting a battle against his own calculated life expectancy. Dreaming of going to space, he finds himself taking on the identity of another. As the theatrical preview’s voice over intones, every cell of his body could possibly implicate him, identifying his ruse by a single hair, eyelash or skin cell.
While the premise is ripe for philosophic and cinematic exploration, and while several of the supporting characters are fun to watch (particularly the always great Allen Arkin), the film was disappointingly executed. While most of the cast proved to be competent in their roles, the breathy performance of Uma Thurman proved once again that, outside of the drunk June of “Henry and June”, or the drugged Mia Wallace of “Pulp Fiction”, she really can’t act very well. Her one-note performance was distracting, and her cliché part was weakly written. Gratuitous sex and dancing scenes with reality-bitten Ethan surely did not help, either.
Further, the dynamic between Ethan’s character and his brother, with their competitive insistence on swim races to determine who was the stronger, proved to be an overused, un-reflexive device. By the fifth swim race, the point had been made, and the film literally stops its forward momentum every time that the unoriginal plot device is employed.
Despite the sleek production design and clever intentions, “Gattaca” comes across as a Cronenberg movie without the chuztpah that he is famous for. While Cronenberg’s films are always risky, injected with a sense of danger or experimentalism, Nicol’s movie comes across as softened sci-fi, a boring “Blade Runner”. More style than substance, “Gattaca” proved to be disappointing. For a film that concerned itself with the importance of living up to one’s greatest potential, “Gattaca” clearly has not lived up to its own.