There’s not nearly enough high-concept science fiction like In Time making its way to movie theaters. Most movie studios seem to believe that sci-fi begins and ends with Star Wars and creature features of varying degrees. It’s sad how rare films like In Time are because high-concept science fiction can make us look at our world in completely new ways. In Time itself releases at a time where the issues it deals with are very much in the public eye, to the point where I have to wonder if the people in charge of choosing the release date are masters of precognition.
In Time is science fiction for the Occupy Wall Street set. It’s a flawed movie, to be sure, and not a subtle one, but you’ll enjoy yourself.
Director: Andrew Niccol
Release Date: October 28, 2011
The world of In Time is ruled by the clock. Everyone stops aging at the tender age of twenty-five. After that, your remaining life, counted down by a green timer on your arm, is your entire net worth. You go to work, receive a certain amount of time for your pay, give some of your time for goods and services, and must constantly fear those who would try to steal your time. Your bank account is literally your lifeline, in all things. As such, a massive economy of haves and have-nots has arisen into separate “time zones,” (by the way, this movie is as punny as my wife) where you need a certain amount of time to travel to different, more affluent zones. Danger also comes from “Minutemen,” gangsters that prey on the weak and steal their time, lead by the psychotic Fortis (Alex Pettyfer). This is the world of Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a man living hand-to-mouth with no more than a day of time on his clock every morning. When a mysterious wealthy stranger (Matt Bomer) gifts him with over a century of time, Will finds himself accused of murder, pursued by relentless Timekeeper (cop) Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), and thrown into the deep end of a deeply unequal system, personified by the nigh-immortal Phillippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), a man with enough time to live for millions of years. Will, along with Phillippe’s rebellion daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), attempts to fight back against the corrupt system to try to ensure that there is time enough for all.
Unless you don’t read English, or you’ve been sleep-reading again, you probably get what the central issue of the movie is. You also get this while watching the movie because virtually every character explains the points writer/director Andrew Niccol is trying to make when given the opportunity. It seems Mr. Niccol has lost the gift of subtlety shown in Gattaca, his first film and a masterpiece in its own right. The film tries its best to be intelligent, talking about the inequality of the world in a legitimately interesting way. Unfortunately, this falls flat with clunky, soapbox-y dialogue. There’s the distinct impression that the film existed in an earlier draft in a much smarter state. We see how the ultra-rich, with hundreds or thousands of years on their clocks, live in terror of anything reckless or dangerous, travelling with body guards, moving slowly, and eating and drinking in as much moderation as possible. Compare this to the ghetto, which is impoverished but lively. No one’s got time to spare, so they spend it living. This is a constant theme, and one I wished was explored more deeply.
While the central thesis is played out with a trumpet, the film doesn’t fail to be enjoyable. Not all high-concept sci-fi has to be Gattaca or Inception. Despite a fairly dumbed-down central core, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. There’s a distinct Bonnie and Clyde/Robin Hood angle here, as Will and Slyvia rob banks to bring time to the poor. Thrillers, in order to be effective, require some sort of ticking-clock to gain tension, and In Time has about the most obvious ticking-clock of all. When characters find themselves running out of time, literally, the tension rises and falls beautifully. The pacing winds up shooting off, when the film gets going. The worst you’ll find is the moment stated above when characters feel the need to explain to the cheap seats why things aren’t equal and why the movie is just like real life where the rich get richer and the poor die poor.
There’s also not an inadequate performance in the bunch. No one brings greatness to the table necessarily, save possibly for Mad Men alum Vincent Kartheiser, who brings a weight and an age to the role necessary for a hundred year-old man in a twenty-five year-old’s body. He makes an ample villain for Justin Timberlake’s Will, though I wished both had more to work with. The only character that seems to have enough facets to be truly interesting is Cillian Murphy’s Timekeeper Raymond, though writing the words “Cillian Murphy does an amazing acting job,” seems to be basically a moot point. His cop is the epitome of the weary guardian, a man who’s done his duty for so long that he no longer cares about the human side of the equation, just the time. Most everyone else in the case is giving only decent work. Amanda Seyfried continue to not impress me. Olivia Wilde, in a brief role as Will’s mother, effectively plays the part of an older woman who’s probably had to live through hell to make it twenty-five additional years.
The film is reasonably pretty, owed largely to the design work. There’s a quasi-retro-future look going on here that Niccol is clearly in love with, as it’s very similar to Gattaca‘s pre-Mad Men fifties/sixties chic with a touch of that grand ol’ future. Not enough to create a Fallout-style world where technology never left the Atomic Age, but more like technology never left the Rat Pack days. All the rich are in lush, tailored suits, all the cars are boat-like and electric, and computer displays seem to range from modern to oddly-retro. It’s just distinctive enough to make the movie at least look unique, even if the subject matter is on the well-worn side.
In Time isn’t nearly the intelligent thriller it wants to be, but that’s OK. It grapples with a very cool concept, and it does it reasonably well and with a decent amount of style. Ideologically, it’s a little hollow, but it’s a solid piece of genre work.
Jenika Katz – I hate going into movies with any sort of expectations because it always ends badly, but I couldn’t help but get excited at the idea of movie similar to Gattaca and made by the same guy. Well, In Time is no Gattaca. It’s kind of what Gattaca would have been if they’d felt the need to beat you over the head with the movie’s messages. The premise is really cool, and the movie is pretty and entertaining, but there are some logical holes here and there, and I keep feeling like they could have done more with the subject matter. The problem is that it’s just smart enough to spark conversation, and even though it’s not that great, I can already tell that people won’t stop talking about how deep it is. It’s such a cool concept, but since it’s not fully realized, In Time is just disappointing. 60 – Okay
Matthew Razak – In Time is a great concept, with decent execution and a terrible screenplay. The idea behind the film is both intriuging and interesting and I’d love to see more movies take place in the universe. The direction, action and acting keep you well enough enticed (though there could definitely be more action) and the social message, although obvious is far from film ruining. However, the screenplay is only passable and down right clumsy at points. Maybe it was simply because there were so many ideas that needed to be crammed into one film, but the screenplay is blatantly obvious to the point of groaning at points. Still, that shouldn’t stop anyone from having fun at the movie. I’m actually interested in seeing the Bonnie and Clyde style sequel the ending sets up just because it could be amazing in the universe of the film. 77 – Good