Director Andrew Niccol has only directed 3 films in the past decade, but his first, 1997's "Gattaca", is what I would consider his best. The film takes place in a near future where genetic science has gotten to the point where parents can select all of their children's traits. However, not all parents have taken this option and as a result, there are two tiers of society: a perfect class of Aryan-type people and a lower class consisting of genetically inferior people.
The main character, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), is one of these genetically inferior people. His parents decided to have him naturally, then later had another son, Anton (Elias Koteas), who was genetically perfect. Vincent ended up having a heart problem and bad eyesight, which made it impossible for him to join the genetic elite. As a result, we find him working a dead end job as a janitor at a spacecraft launch facility, dreaming of becoming an astronaut.
Eventually, Vincent decides to pose as a genetically perfect person named Jerome Morrow (Jude Law). He undergoes painful procedures to make him taller and gets a job at the space agency as an astronaut, using Jerome's DNA. Yes, they actually scan people's DNA to verify their identity as they enter the facility. While training to become an astronaut, he also falls in love with a woman named Irene Cassini (Uma Thurman).
The atmosphere of this film is very cool and very refreshing. The city we see uses a sort of retro 1950s style, with old style cars and everyone wearing conservative two-piece suits. Everyone at Vincent's workplace also behaves in a very professional manner, bringing back the cold corporate work environments that were stereotypical of the 1950s. The future technology is integrated in a very minimalist and subtle fashion. In the end, it becomes a very stylish and beautiful world that I wouldn't mind living in.
Ethan Hawke is at the top of his game in this film and we feel general compassion for him as he struggles to fit into a society that has disowned him. He really wants to become an astronaut and I'm sure most of us can relate to having such high dreams and ambitions. Uma Thurman also gives a great performance, playing a very controlled and professional role, yet showing some intimacy in her romance with the main character. Jude Law is also fantastic and gives what I consider my favorite performance of his. Despite his character's somewhat irritating nature, we see how weak he really is and empathize with his loss of mobility from illness.
While providing great entertainment, the film also addresses an important ethical issue regarding genetics. We will very soon have the capability to do what is done in Gattaca, by weeding out bad genes and keeping good genes. The question is, at what point does it go beyond helping people and become like Hitler's racial purity project?
The music in the film is almost entirely original compositions by Michael Nyman, with only two songs by other artists. The music is very beautiful and appears to reflect Vincent's hopeful attitude towards his future. One of the songs is a piano piece that was arranged for someone with twelve fingers, which is played by a genetically defective piano player in the club that Vincent and Irene visit.
Overall, this is one of the best movies of the 1990s and remains one of my favorites of all time. A lot of work and care was put into this movie and although it isn't a huge budget film, they did everything perfectly with the funding that they had. If you have the chance, definitely watch this movie as I guarantee you will enjoy it. I decided to award this movie 5/5 stars and also the artistic achievement award for stunning art direction and acting.