On DVD: In Time

They say “time is money,” and so it seems filmmaker Andrew Niccol took them too seriously. “In Time” imagines a dystopia in which humans have been genetically modified to stop aging at 25 and at that point receive a year to live as indicated by timers on their forearms. The only way they can prolong their life is by acquiring more time. As a result, the poor live day to day and the rich can live forever.

“In Time” is Niccol’s most extensive imagining of an alternative future. He steeped “The Truman Show” and “Gattaca” in something tangible (reality entertainment, genetic engineering). Those films emphasize the science; “In Time” emphasizes the fiction.

This high concept goes higher then most, and it ends up running the show. The idea of tying your internal body clock to your wallet would create such a drastic overhaul of society (think of the economic, social and emotional after effects and the way they would be intertwined) that Niccol’s script becomes slave to explanation and simply feeling out what life is like for these characters. It’s a cool exploration if you love this kind of science fiction, but because Niccol indulges all these facets of what their life is like, the core story suffers.

I am always the first to admit my bias for high-concept dystopian sci fi, so these nerd-tastic indulgences make a film entertaining enough for the likes of me and certainly others, but I also have a soft spot for good storytelling (imagine that). So it’s a problem that Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) serves as a vehicle for the story’s substance rather than being a part of said substance.

Will lives in the one of the poorest time zones (socio-economic classes remain strictly divided) and works in a factory so that he and his mother (Olivia Wilde) can survive each day. But a trip to a bar one night changes his life when he meets a man named Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) who has more than a century.

After Will saves Hamilton from a “Minuteman” (code for “gangster”) named Fortis (Alex Pettyfer), the two exchange some philosophical words and Will wakes up the next day to find that Hamilton has transferred all but five minutes to Will. Knowing that kind of time is dangerous in his zone, he makes plans to flee for wealthy country and plots how he can make the most of his recently acquired time/capital.

Will has a lot of options of what to do with his newfound wealth, so one has to wonder how “upset the system” becomes one of them. Hamilton does impart some knowledge of the system’s unfairness before offing himself, but Will’s journey from blue-collar guy who just cares about family to Robin Hood-like action hero with vengeance in his heart never quite comes across. Slipping in tidbits about Will’s father halfway through the movie don’t count either. Chalk all this up to the beginning, which spends more time establishing the rules of this universe than Will’s character. We’re smitten with this at the time, but it costs the film later on.

As emotionless as the story gets, “In Time” still boasts some extremely clever moments and examples of effective filmmaking. Niccol has spent a great deal of time (coincidentally) thinking up this universe, that much is clear. A poker game has Will betting his life down to seconds and on countless occasions you will find yourself understanding the stakes involved as life clocks dwindle. When Will has little time left, the film gets extremely tense, and when he has centuries, you’ll find yourself unusually more relaxed. The issue is that as much as Niccol has spent time drawing up the parameters of his world in impressive fashion, he doesn’t understand the way it inhibits him from telling a good overall story.

Much of the film consists of cat-and-mouse chases after Will kidnaps Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a man with time to spare (to say the least). He’s pursued by a timekeeper (an law enforcement officer tasked with keeping the system in place) named Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), easily the film’s best character. Murphy transcends the dutiful villain archetype with his performance. Seyfried starts strong as Sylvia, but as her character arc gives way to Stockholm Syndrome, she loses her flair—and so does the film.

“In Time” creates an unparalleled dystopia in terms of sheer complexity, but it boxes out any chance for emotional depth. The “Robin Hood” meets “Bonnie & Clyde” meets a Jane Austen novel love story (set in the future) hardly connects to the “fight the system” motif for which Niccol aims. Having them hold hands every time they run somewhere (and they run a lot) doesn’t make it better. Timberlake and Seyfried possess many strong characteristics, but Niccol shortchanges them. For all the interesting questions and philosophy that this “time is money” scenario poses, the rest simply doesn’t measure up.


2.5/5 Stars


In Time

Written and Directed by Andrew Niccol

Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Alex Pettyfer



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