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(1997) (Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman) (PG-13)

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Drama/Sci-Fi: A genetically inferior man tries to pose as a perfect human being in a future where a person's genetic makeup determines their social class and future.
In the not so distant future, people can choose the genetic makeup of their children, thus eliminating "inferior" traits such as nearsightedness, baldness and other "undesirable" natural features. Children conceived the old-fashioned way are at a disadvantage right from birth, and are labeled "invalid" due to their imperfections. Young Vincent Freeman (CHAD CHRIST) is such a boy. Nearsighted and blood tested to have other deficiencies such as a weak heart from which he'll die at the age of thirty, Vincent's future has already been determined -- he'll be a lower class citizen. His younger brother Anton (WILLIAM LEE SCOTT), however, is genetically perfect, and continually outdoes his brother at nearly everything. Growing up, Vincent is a janitor and dreams of working for the Gattaca corporation, a company involved in space exploration. Due to his genetic makeup, however, Vincent will never travel through space. That is, of course, unless he can change his genes, and he does the next best thing.

With the help of German (TONY SHALHOUB), a DNA broker, a now adult Vincent (ETHAN HAWKE) assumes the identity of Jerome Eugene Morrow (JUDE LAW), a now paralyzed, but still genetically perfect man. Eugene, as he now calls himself, is willing to give blood and other body samples to Vincent in exchange for money. This allows Vincent to pass the many I.D. tests and truly become the old Jerome. Everything seems perfect, and while he must perform a daily regimen of scrubbing his body to remove excess cells and hairs, he does become a Gattaca flight navigator, where he works alongside his beautiful coworker Irene (UMA THURMAN). When the agency's director is murdered, however, Vincent's deceptive plan is endangered. Detective Hugo (ALAN ARKIN) and his boss, the Investigator (LOREN DEAN) begin looking for the suspect's genetic clues and when they find an "invalid's" eyelash at the murder scene, things begin to fall apart for Vincent. As the countdown continues for his planned space mission, Vincent must do what he can to prove he's not the killer while also concealing his true identity.

For those who might be fans of someone in the cast or who like intelligent sci-fi, there's a good possibility they will. Otherwise, preteens and others probably won't be interested.
For brief violent images, language, and some sexuality.
  • ETHAN HAWKE plays a man who attempts to deceive an unfair social class system by posing as someone that he's not. He does this so that he can achieve his goal before he dies at a predetermined age. Beyond that, he drinks and smokes a little, sleeps with Irene, and beats up one cop. He does prove, however, that one can succeed despite one's physical limitations as well as those imposed by others.
  • UMA THURMAN plays another Gattaca employee who befriends Vincent/Jerome and does sleep with him twice.
  • JUDE LAW plays a nearly alcoholic paraplegic who sells his identity to Vincent in exchange for money. While bitter at first, he does become more enlightened as the story progresses.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    A cautionary, but ultimately optimistic tale of what would happen if we started engineering genetically perfect human beings, this is an engaging and satisfying yarn. It's also a very slow moving story that fortunately has just enough suspenseful scenes in it to occasionally perk things up. The sci-fi element -- that's initially quite interesting -- only fuels the plot so far. Yet what a fascinating dilemma the main character creates for himself. As the previews say, any cell of his might be his downfall and he only sheds, oh, several hundred million of them each day which creates quite a predicament. This is visually presented in a wonderfully symbolic opening that has magnified cells floating down like heavy snow and hair stubble loudly hitting the floor like metal pipes. All of that not only shows the "evidence" Vincent must hide, but its quantity and the sound of those hairs striking the floor show that hiding it won't be easy. Of course you wonder why in this technically enhanced future they couldn't just alter his DNA, or inject dye into his irises, or any number of things to make his deception a little easier. While that would make sense, it would unfortunately eliminate most of his problems and there would essentially be no story. Thus, those minor objections are nullified for sake of the plot.

    While that plot is slow moving, one must remember this is a thinking person's sci-fi tale. There are no wild special effects or laser guns, for this is the not so distant future (and with the latest genetic discoveries and experiments headlining today's news, something like this might not be that far off). Not wanting to fall under the often goofy futuristic clothing and set pieces commonly found in sci-fi films, costume designer Colleen Atwood and production designer Jan Roelfs have given the film a sterile, retro look. Despite the film's setting, these people, especially actor Jude Law, appear to be right out of a 1940's or 1950's film noir feature. If you imagine such people outfitted like that walking around in George Orwell's "1984," then you've got the look and feel of this picture.

    The performances are great, with Jude Law delivering an outstanding take as the paralyzed, but still genetically superior being. Essentially his first American film, Law is mesmerizing on screen and as said above has seemingly been yanked out of an older film and pasted into this one. We expect this fine actor will have a bright future in Hollywood movies. Uma Thurman ("Pulp Fiction") is also perfectly cast as a near-perfect woman of the future. Her initial cold, sterile demeanor not only partially hides her beauty, but also her character's invisible imperfection that makes her only that much more human. Ethan Hawke ("Reality Bites") as the lead character is a good choice as he doesn't appear to be a perfectly constructed specimen (like Law, Thurman or Loren Dean). As such, however, he's nearly overshadowed by the other performers and their characters, but that's part of the way his character should be played, so it's not too much of a problem.

    The film's first reel is filled with Hawke's voice over narration, which is something we usually despise because it's often used as an easy way out to impart information or character motivations and emotions. For this sort of film, however, we excuse it's use because we need to learn all of the back story to understand what's going on, and because they essentially get rid of it after that introduction. Writer/director Andrew Niccol creates a fascinating story filled with such elaborate details -- a drop of a newborn's blood immediately identifies that person's life from birth to exact death, and a perfect lab specimen is all you need to pass a job interview -- that you can't help but be fascinated by the plot. After the sci-fi element has worn away, Niccol manages to hold our interest by then turning the movie into a story of the human spirit surviving despite science, and the efforts of others that might topple the main character's precariously stacked house of deception. Throwing in a little romance with some non-traditional, but highly effective suspense scenes, this film is sure to entertain audiences looking for a more mature, thought provoking science fiction film. We found it so, and thus give "Gattaca" an 8 out of 10.

    Preteens probably won't want to see this film, but for teenagers (and adults) who do, here's a quick glimpse of what's in it. A murder takes place and while we don't see the act, we see the bloody corpse several times. One person commits suicide (not exactly seen and certainly not graphic) and there's another beating. Sexual material is limited to implied encounters between Hawke and Thurman, and we briefly see one nonsexual instance of his bare butt. There's very little profanity, but there are two uses of the "f" word. Some drinking and smoking also occur, and some kids will identify with being singled out or discriminated against because they're "different." Fortunately, despite the fact that the main character uses deception to succeed -- he has to in this prejudicial society -- the movie points out that such perfection is highly overrated and that people can succeed despite their "flaws." If you or someone in your family wishes to see this film, we suggest that first you examine the content to make sure it's appropriate.

  • We see many empty liquor bottles around Eugene's place, and he's often seen drinking liquor (due to his depression over his paralysis).
  • We see Vincent with a liquor bottle in his hand and Eugene tells him, "We need to get drunk immediately."
  • We then see Vincent and Eugene drinking wine in a restaurant where people in the background also drink.
  • Vincent and Irene drink martinis.
  • A young Vincent cuts his finger with a sea shell to be a "blood brother" with Anton and the result in a tiny, bloody scratch.
  • We see a dead man on the floor who has a very bloody head and there's a great deal of blood on the floor around him. We later see the dead man (with his bloody, matted hair) again during an autopsy.
  • We briefly see Eugene vomiting.
  • For those who don't like such sights, we do see a few instances where needles are injected into veins (for withdrawing blood). During one of these, Vincent yanks his arm away (to do a switch of blood vials) and some blood squirts across the room and onto a detective's shoe.
  • Obviously, the murderer has both (but that person is unknown for most of the film).
  • Some viewers may see the whole notion of genetic engineering as having both.
  • The society in this movie discriminates against the genetically inferior and positions them in a lower societal class.
  • Vincent's parents and Anton see Vincent as inferior, telling him he'll never be able to amount to anything (due to his genetics and society's strong beliefs about his shortcomings).
  • We see several scenes of Vincent and Anton (as kids and then as adults) playing a game of "chicken" where they swim out into the ocean as far as they can and see who turns back first. In several of them, Vincent has to save Anton who dips under the surface and nearly drowns.
  • There are several tense scenes where Vincent must face blood tests or road blocks where they might discover his real identity.
  • Vincent has to cross a busy road without being able to see hardly at all (he's taken out his contacts).
  • None.
  • A young Vincent cuts his finger with a sea shell to be a "blood brother" with Anton and the result in a tiny, bloody scratch.
  • We see several scenes of Vincent and Anton (as kids and then as adults) playing a game of "chicken" where they swim out into the ocean as far as they can and see who turns back first.
  • A person commits suicide in a futuristic incinerator-like device.
  • None.
  • There's a mild amount of tension filled music in just a few scenes.
  • None.
  • 2 "f" words, 1 hell, 1 damn, and 2 uses each of "For Christ's sakes," "My God," and "God," and 1 use each of "For God's sakes," "G-damn," and "Oh Christ" as exclamations.
  • As Vincent's giving a urine sample, his male doctor tells him (referring to his genitals), "You've got a beautiful piece of equipment there...I don't know why my folks didn't order one like that for me." (It's all rather clinical and despite how it sounds doesn't appear to have homosexual implications).
  • Vincent mentions that he was conceived in the Riviera (not in France, but in the car) and we see his parents afterwards in the backseat (but we don't see any nudity or activity).
  • Vincent tells Eugene that he wished he had more visitors, especially "ones that you didn't pay" (implying prostitution).
  • Vincent and Irene passionately kiss and we later see them in bed twice, thus implying that they had sex (but we see no nudity or activity).
  • We see Vincent squatting nude out at the beach (as he scrubs his body) and we see his bare butt.
  • Eugene smokes several times while Vincent smokes only a few times.
  • Vincent's parents and Anton see Vincent as inferior, telling him he'll never be able to amount to anything (due to his genetics and society's strong beliefs about his shortcomings).
  • The moral, social and societal implications of genetic engineering.
  • Discrimination and treating people poorly just because they're different from others.
  • Vincent's parents and Anton see Vincent as inferior, telling him he'll never be able to amount to anything (due to his genetics and society's strong beliefs about his shortcomings).
  • Noting one's achievements instead of their flaws.
  • The police rough up some "invalids" while searching for the murder suspect.
  • Vincent punches, head butts, knees and finally kicks a cop who tries to stop him (and may discover his real identity).
  • A person commits suicide in a futuristic incinerator-like device.

  • Reviewed October 21, 1997

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