Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) goes to work in the offices of a space exploration company that is run by government rules which include extensive genetic testing at regular intervals to prove the employees are who they say they are. What he wants out of this position is a chance to head off on a space mission, and now he is very close to that goal, but in a precarious position because he is not who he says he is. He knows he's Vincent, but must pose as Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) if he wants to get by in this society of the future, and that's down to the fact that Vincent is genetically inferior. He wasn't conceived as a perfect baby, as many parents who can afford it arrange, for he has a weak heart...
Just the thing to get you thrown off a space mission in writer and director Andrew Niccol's debut at the helm of his own movie; he had graduated from commercials, and that sleek, stylish appearance was carried over to his feature films with some assurance, which could have the audience so caught up in how atmospheric they were finding them that they could ignore the sticking points in his screenplay. They could not ignore them in his follow-up S1m0ne, but after doing fair business at the box office once eventually it had a release after being on the shelf for a while, Gattaca won over many viewers on home video where it quickly became a cult movie and a byword for inspirational science fiction.
Which was odd, since much of this came across as depicting how ambition and overcoming the odds against an individual rendered them incredibly selfish. So determined is Vincent to achieve his aim that he doesn't care for anyone as much as he cares for himself, not even equally charisma-free love interest Uma Thurman, he's a cold and calculating character which suits the cold and calculating world he has been born into so that before long this becomes less a matter of chasing a lifelong dream and more a case of getting one over on the system at all costs, even to the point of discarding any compassion for the victims of the society that ensures only the best can have the opportunities while the rest can exist as an underclass, taking janitor jobs to clear up after the privileged. Not that you could expect Vincent to take down this establishment, it wasn't that sort of story.
That said, a shade more empathy would have made him easier to warm to, as seen when one of his work colleagues is murdered at the beginning of the movie and he couldn't care a jot, it simply means is that he now has a seat on that space rocket and that's all he is interested in. To be fair, the film wasn't particularly interested in the victim either, he's the mission director and all that is pertinent is this brings the police to the office, putting the pressure on Vincent to keep up his subterfuge till the end of the week when the flight takes place. That's when you notice everything here is done for effect, to present its heroic triumph of the human spirit when if Vincent is the best we can be then there's not much hope for us, as he does everything for his personal gain.
It wouldn't be so uneasy to watch if the implication was that he was a complete bastard so we had the thrill of a protagonist riding roughshod over the others in his world knowing he was skirting ever closer to the comeuppance he so richly deserved, for his physical disadvantages do not have any effect on him otherwise other than the occasional instance where a minor plot point demands it. Compare him to an actual disabled character, Jerome, who has been screwed up and thrown away by society when he was no longer of any use; Vincent finds something for him to do, as the provider of genetic material - blood, urine, hair, and so on - that will assist him in passing as a healthy human being, which to all intents and purposes Vincent is, it's just that plot contrivance to keep a mood of injustice going. Niccol even makes Jerome largely unsympathetic so we don't feel too bad about his predicament. One thing he did right was make this one of the best looking sci-fi efforts of the nineties, but once you ponder what if Vincent has a heart attack on the mission, it all falls apart. Music by Michael Nyman.