Gattaca takes place in the “not-to-distant” future where genetic engineering has been perfected to the point of becoming expected and mainstream, and as a result DNA has become the primary measure of personal status. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent, one of the few people born “the old-fashioned way.” Flagged to die of a congenital heart defect by the time he’s 30, Vincent is an “in-valid,” a downtrodden class of people without the genetic makeup to be of use to society as anything more than manual labor. Strengthened by a childhood rival with his engineered brother Anton (William Lee Scott), Vincent dreams of going into space, but his genetic code is a brick wall he cannot overcome. Desperate, he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), a gifted athlete who is now paralyzed. Upon gaining access to the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation, Vincent tediously maintains his cover while romancing co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman) and striving for his dream.
The film is quite simply a sci-fi masterpiece, and it cemented Niccol (who also wrote the screenplay for the prophetic The Truman Show) among my favorite directors. It succeeds on every possible level, as a stirring human drama, a complex exploration of timely themes, a beautifully photographed artistic achievement (Niccol uses color filters better than any filmmaker I’ve ever seen), and a great piece of entertainment. Hawke, Thurman, and Law are fantastic as the three leads, and the supporting cast (which includes the likes of Alan Arkin, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Shalhoub and Xander Berkeley) is equally good. Michael Nyman’s beautiful and haunting score fits the film’s mood perfectly, as does the sleek and subtle 50’s retro aesthetic (which also helps the film, released in 1997, withstand the test of time better than most sci-fi). For the pro-life crowd, there is much to digest and admire in a story which has as it’s fundamental premise that a person’s worth and potential is rooted in their basic humanity, nothing more. Chances are, most of you haven’t seen this one (it wasn’t exactly a box-office success), so if you haven’t, go rent it this weekend and savor a modern classic. - **** (out of 4)
Gattaca is rated PG-13 for brief violent images, language and some sexuality.