A surrealistically subtle look, an intriguing scientific premise and a good story highlight Gattaca, which ends up a measure above the pack of recent science-fiction films based around high-budget special effects and tired plot devices.
Gattaca, set in the not-too-distant future, creates a world in which manipulation of human DNA, the chemical code which defines the characteristics of all living things, is part of everyday life.
In this future, most children are genetically engineered to perfection before they are born. Those who are not fortunate enough to have been born with perfect genes suffer the stigma of being labeled "In-Valid" by society.
Despite his second-class status, In-Valid Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) refuses to let his less-than-perfect genetic makeup erase his dream of traveling into space.
However, even genetic superiority doesn't mean that people are completely free from misfortune. Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), despite his perfect genetic makeup, is confined to a wheelchair as the result of an auto accident.
Vincent and Jerome form a symbiotic partnership, in which Jerome provides the genetic mask under which Vincent can hide his In-Valid status and pursue his goal.
Through this ruse, Vincent is able to pass blood and urine tests, using cached samples provided by Jerome. He lands a job with the elite Gattaca corporation and is next in line for a trip to Saturn's moon, Titan.
But when a Gattaca director is murdered, Vincent's secret is in danger of being exposed, and the story turns into a suspense-filled thriller.
Andrew Niccol, who also wrote the story, makes his directorial debut with Gattaca, and does a superb job of creating an eerily familiar version of the future.
The production and cinematography seen in the film are visually stunning, not because of high-tech special effects, but because of aesthetics and attention to detail.
Classy retro fashions and decor combine with modernistic austerity to create an elegant futuristic environment that is neither far-fetched nor unrecognizable given today's standards.
Perhaps it is this familiarity that makes Gattaca's story work so well. Vincent is compelling because he represents an ordinary, imperfect person.
Hawke's portrayal of Vincent is superb, and he is is well-supported by Law and Uma Thurman, who plays Vincent's love interest, Irene.
The science behind the fiction of Gattaca is both fascinating and terrifying at the same time, and it raises some intense moral issues. The ethical controversy and the incredible potential surrounding genetic engineering add excitement to the story.
Delving further into the science of genetics, the film's title comes straight from the same components which make us who we are. The four key chemicals which compose DNA are guanine, adenine, thymine and cytosine - referred to by the letters G, A, T and C.
Gattaca isn't a film about cute aliens, bizarre gadgetry or big exploding things. Instead, the film is about people and individuality, set on a platform questioning scientific ethics and morality.
While this may not make it a blockbuster hit for the masses, it does make Gattaca an excellent movie.