FILM REVIEW; The Next Bigotry: Privilege by Genetic PerfectionBy JANET MASLINOCT. 24, 1997Continue reading the main storyShare This PageImagine an Orwellian story presented with a cool, eerie precision like Peter Greenaway's and you have some sense of ''Gattaca,'' a handsome and fully imagined work of cautionary futuristic fiction. Itssubject is bigotry, though the races and sexes appear to enjoy equal freedom, which is to say not much. The film's world revolves around strict conformity at places like the Gattaca Corporation, where employees wear somber uniforms and stern, serious expressions -- except for one man with a discreetly worried look: Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), Gattaca's house imposter.Vincent has already tried conventional means of working his way to the top at Gattaca, but in his case a janitor's job is the limit. That is because Vincent came into the world in what is now the conventionalmanner but could, in an age of genetic engineering, become obsolete. The film envisions a culture of unapologetic discrimination,with genetically Valid individuals spared defects like baldness, alcoholism and attention deficit disorder and given great privilege. The others, called In-Valids, are relegated to menial work. ''They don't care where you were born,'' someone says about this arrangement. ''Just how.''''Gattaca,'' an impressively fine-tuned first feature from Andrew Niccol, has been cleverly marketed for weeks with advertisements offering genetically select babies, slick images that fit all too smoothly into today's culture of perfectionist striving. The film is set in ''the not-too-distant future,'' and indeed it succeeds as a scarily apt extension of present-day attitudes. But beyond the ingenuity of its premise, ''Gattaca'' also holds interest with its obsessive attentionto detail. The filmmakers gave thought to such matters as whether automobiles of the future would need license plates (no, just microchips) and deftly set Gattaca's headquarters in Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin County Civic Center. The building becomes a perfect reflection of the film's spare, controlled state of mind.Surreptitiously battling the powers that be is Vincent, who has concocted an elaborate subterfuge. He is in collusion with Eugene, aonetime star swimmer played by Jude Law, who makes the most sensational major movie debut (he appeared in a small film called ''Shopping'') since Edward Norton walked off with ''Primal Fear.''
Eugene is the perfect genetic specimen that Vincent, who has a heart defect, is not. ''You could go anywhere,'' Vincent is told, ''with this guy's helix tucked under your arm.''Eugene has been crippled in an accident, which effectively cuts short all opportunity for him in this brave new world. So a gene-broker of sorts (Tony Shalhoub) works out a deal whereby Vincent can use Eugene's genetic samples to get past Gattaca's daily security checks. The film renders this process with fascinating precision, showing how nail cuttings, fingerprints, blood and urine samples, even hairs and dandruff, can be methodically switched. The