An interesting concept, with terrific set design, and some headliner talent. Overall the plot dragged, and in a way, once you got the idea, it started to flatline, as if the variables of what might happen were limited. In fact, some of the outcomes were almost laughable because they were trying so hard to pull some heartstrings and wrap the thing up in a story-telling way. The parallels of the lift-off and the incineration, so calmly done, and the second swimming contest at night are both ludicrous if only because they are so heavy-handed.
Not that there aren't interesting aspects all along. It's not a boring movie, just stretched thin. It lacks atmosphere the way Solaris (2002) or 2001 (1968) have atmosphere, but it is paced in the same deliberate way (almost). Not that it intends such weighty philosophical poetry. No, Gattaca is a sort of reach for the stars movie, out to remind us that humans are the best, flaws are part of perfection, and romance only goes so far.
Ethan Hawkes is fine in this, and so is Uma Thurman, but since everyone is supposed to be a bit machine-like, we can't expect highly emotional performances, even when they are making love (not shown). Alan Arkin certainly gets the post-modern detective award, wearing a long coat and bowler inside at all times, as all detectives should, and he's clever but not quite clever enough to solve the crime. Other minor characters, including Jude Law, do their best to fill in the chinks of a very calculated effect.
In a way, this made me think of the Law/Paltrow extravaganza, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow(2004), not for any visual similarity, but just for the sense of an artificial future and an awkward love affair in the midst of it, and if neither movie is great exactly, both are really interesting and fun. But Gattaca, by comparison, is so intent on dulling the comic book aspects that are a little bit at play, in favor of the sterile future that may or may not ever happen, it chills the whole experience. We can't quite take it all serious (there will never be a number to our heartbeats before we die, nor a way to know when that number would be counted), so why not push it into something more fanciful, surreal, fun, or just futuristic. Never mind reality.
All that said, sci-fi fans should love this overall, if the idea is what counts most. DNA manipulation, and screening our progeny before birth, is presented as a weirdly normal activity, a little cold, for sure, but nothing immoral. The idea of just having sex and being in love and letting it all fly, take what the roll of the dice gives you, is presented as a model of the perfect life (which is what most of us do, of course)...until the end, when it slips a little back into boyhood dreams come true for those who persist and cheat and are really really pretty and selfish. Which not all of us are at all.
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