Here's a quick test: Name four science fiction movies that made you think. Contact, 2001, Blade Runner, and... well, Independence Day was pretty good at making you think you'd wasted your money. Sadly, while SF in general becomes more relevant every day, in the movies technology means mindless special effects and the future is a great place to blow stuff up. That's what makes Gattaca stand out: A science fiction movie without special effects is rare enough, but when it's more concerned with ideas than action, you'd better make sure you haven't wandered into an old Twilight Zone retrospective by mistake.
In this version of the future, tinkering with your kids genetic nature to create perfect offspring is common practice, which may be good news for the superkids but it's a bit of a downer for those conceived the old-fashioned way. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) was dealt a bad hand from birth, but despite his bad eyesight and heart problems, he refuses to let his imperfections and society's discrimination defeat his dream to go into space. To get inside the rocket-launching Gattaca corporation, Vincent takes on the genetic persona of the perfect but crippled Jerome (Jude Law): He may have to carry samples of Jerome's urine for tests and sprinkle his hair and skin flakes everywhere he goes, but for Vincent that's a small price to pay to get into space. But when the only person at Gattaca who suspected 'Jerome' wasn't all he said he was is found murdered - with Vincent's eyelash on site - a week before Vincent's leaving for Titan, the police investigation seems certain to leave him firmly earth-bound.
As a murder mystery this is uncompelling, and as a romance - with the icy Uma Thurman as a sub standard Gattaca staffer who falls for what she believes is top-grade genetic material - it's far from memorable, but its creepy vision of an antiseptic future populated by sallow-faced pretty boys in tailored suits saves it from complete failure. A world where your every move can be tracked and your life is mapped out at birth is a pretty worrying (and frighteningly likely) prospect, and here it's played for all it's worth - it's just a shame that the rest of this film is so forgettable. Gattaca is different and interesting enough to make it worth a look, but it's more of a curio than a classic.
(this review appeared in Forte#154)