Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 1/30/09

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.


What gives a person worth? Is human value intrinsic, or dependent on a quality found in the person? The question is at the center of our modern debate on sanctity of life issues such as abortion, assisted suicide, and embryonic stem-cell research. The question is also an underlying theme of director Andrew Niccol’s (S1M0NE, Lord of War) sci-fi drama Gattaca. For anyone who likes thoughtful sci-fi or is interested in thinking about the issue of personhood, this is a film that will get you thinking while engaging your heart with a terrific story.

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.

1 comment:

Darius said...

One of the greatest movies of all-time. It gets to me every time I watch it. Also one of the few Jude Law movies I've liked. :)