Gattaca

on October 24, 1997 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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Set in the 21st century, "Gattaca" tackles the high sci-fi concept of genetic manipulation in a future in which potential for disease, defects and aptitudes can be fully determined right at birth. Those deemed inferior--the invalids--are tossed on the lower rung of society, while the perfect specimens have the run of their world, their every dream and wish fulfilled. So what happens when one Vincent Freeman ("Before Sunrise's" Ethan Hawke), a sickly youth whose life span is limited, decides he wants to ascend the highest peaks and join a momentous manned mission to Titan? He switches identities with a paraplegic super-athlete ("Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil's" Jude Law) and goes to work at Gattaca Corp., where his dream seems about to come true.
   Begging the question of why this medically superior future society can't heal a broken back, "Gattaca" betrays its lack of imagination at virtually every turn. It's one of those annoying SF movies that doesn't look futuristic and that doesn't really deal with its main idea, which is the meaning of humanity and how can it be determined. Instead, writer/director Andrew Niccol takes a side trip into mystery as a murder threatens Vincent's standing at Gattaca. The whodunit aspect of the film is old hat and it takes up too much time before trickling to a flat resolution.
   In the lead, Hawke turns in a humorless performance, as does Uma Thurman as a fellow employee who discovers his secret. Even appearances by Gore Vidal as Gattaca's head and Alan Arkin as a sardonic detective investigating the murder don't add much to the proceedings. Niccol does have an eye for beauty and "Gattaca" is certainly well-designed. But the film, like Michael Nyman's excessively sentimental score, is underwhelming. It's SF on the surface but it doesn't stimulate the mind the way the best science fiction does. Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law. Directed and written by Andrew Niccol. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. A Columbia release. SF. Rated PG-13 for brief violent images, language and some sexuality. Running time: 112 min. Screened at Cannes.
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