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Movie Review: Gattaca -- You can only hide from your DNA for so long before it catches up with you.

By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

A great idea does not necessarily make for a great movie. There are enough interesting ideas in Gattaca to recommend it, but their realization is very uneven, resulting in an thoughtful but emotionally uninvolving movie which combines exciting sequences with stretches of boredom.

Cloning and genetic engineering seem to be the hot topics of the year, and Gattaca projects the current trends into a not-too-distant future to create a bleak and sterile picture of a future society, where the desire for perfection had resulted in nothing but conformism, and where every single cell, hair, or drop of blood can identify their owner.

Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is an "in-valid," a person who was conceived naturally instead of being genetically engineered. His genes are highly imperfect, giving him bad eyesight and a weak heart, which means he can't get a prestigious job and is forced to work as a janitor. But Vincent also possesses fierce determination: he wants to join Gattaca, the elite corps of astronauts, and fly away to stars. So he enlists the help of a shady black-marketer who sells genetic identities.

Vincent is introduced to Jerome, a man who has perfect chromosomes but is confined to a wheelchair with a broken back. For a sizable fee, Jerome provides his appearance and "genetic material," mostly bodily fluids, so Vincent can pretend to be Jerome, pass the genetic tests, and enter Gattaca. An interesting story, don't you agree?

Unfortunately, this isn't the story of Gattaca. All of the above is compressed into a twenty-minute flashback and placed in the first half of the movie. When we are first introduced to Vincent, he had already joined Gattaca, and all the suspense behind "is it going to work?" has gone. The rest of the movie involves a pointless subplot about Vincent's romance with a fellow Gattaca worker Irene (Uma Thurman, in a one-note performance), and an almost-as-pointless murder mystery subplot. The latter serves mostly to have a couple of highly suspicious cops perform repetitive genetic tests on the entire Gattaca staff. Some of Vincent's attempts to avoid identification are exciting (how would you cheat on a blood test?), but they grow repetitive quite soon.

Still, even in the second half, there are elements in the movie which make it worth watching. The production design is striking, with the images of a stormy sea contrasting with Gattaca's sterile and uniform interiors. Some minor details are also well placed - the spiral staircase in Jerome's apartment is shaped like a DNA helix, and well used in what might be the movie's most suspenseful scene. The careful viewer will also notice that the word Gattaca' consists only of the four letters which denote DNA components. Finally, the relationship between Vincent and Jerome is interesting to observe and rings true psychologically.

While the details are well-observed, the main narrative of Gattaca has some fundamental problems. It often lacks the sense of true excitement, even the struggle of its protagonist fails to get us emotionally involved. Finally, it is telling that Vincent only tries to outwit the system and never attempts to fight it.

Written and directed by Andrew M. Niccol

Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Gore Vidal, Xander Berkeley, Jayne Brook, Elias Koteas, Maya Rudolph, Una Damon, Elizabeth Dennehy, and Blair Underwood