There is one group of people who will look at In Time and see a sci-fi/action movie starring pretty young leads Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. Then there is another group of people who will look at In Time and see the latest intriguing sci-fi/philosophy quandary from writer/director Andrew Niccol, who has produced quality food-for-thought sci-fi concepts in films like Gattaca, and S1m0ne.
So, the question then becomes: which audience will be most rewarded by investing time in this film? The answer in this case is: Neither.
In Time is a film which has a fantastic premise that it is unable to corral into a quality story. The movie chronicles a future where human beings are bio-engineered to live until age 25, and after they cross that marker their time to live is treated as currency, banked by a neon clock tattooed on their forearms. Like currency in the real world, time is earned through working, stealing, or in the case of the wealthy, inheritance. Also like currency in the real world, time is spent on commodities, leisure, or in rare cases of benevolence, donation. The varying amounts of time people possess creates a social hierarchy that mirrors our own: “Time Zones” confine the poor to a ghetto existence where “clock-punched” citizens lie dead in the streets, while the wealthy live on virtually immortal – although tepid and bored in their insulated existence.
Enter Will Salas (Timberlake), a factory worker age 28 (or “25 + 3″ as they say), who literally lives a day at a time trying to provide enough hours for himself and his mother (Olivia Wilde) to survive on. One night, while out at the local watering hole with his best friend Borel (Johnny Galecki), Will finds himself in the middle of a situation involving a neighborhood time-bandit, Fortis (Alex Pettyfer), and one Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) – a wealthy man from “New Greenwich” who is brazenly slumming it in the ghetto with more than a century on his clock. When Will saves Hamilton from a grisly fate, the rich man confesses that his will to live has run out well before his physical clock. As a parting gift, Hamilton passes Will a century to spend as he likes.
Will’s change of fate lasts long enough for him to briefly experience the luxury of New Greenwich and gamble his way into an even longer amount of time. He also runs into Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of wealthy time mogul Phillippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser). Sylvia has all the time a person could want, but has not experienced a single day worth living – so naturally she is quickly smitten with Will’s “every second counts” passion for life.
However, the time system that keeps the world going is one that does not favor anomalies. When Will suddenly changes fortunes, it attracts the attention of the “Time Keepers” (cops) – in particular half-century veteran Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), who recognizes in Will the same socialistic streak he saw in Will’s father many decades ago. When the Keepers come to forcibly repo Will’s time, Will is forced to flee with Sylvia as a hostage and the chase ensues.
Niccol has a talent for blending sci-fi elements with human drama in order to raise larger philosophical points about our society and/or existence. In Time attempts to follow that trend, only it is unable to synthesize any strong points or conclusions from the socio-economic issues it so clearly (and heavy-handedly) touches on. The idea of time as currency has huge metaphorical and thematic potential, and in the first act it seems as though the film will utilize this potential by exploring issues like what it is to “live” vs. “exist,” and how the investment of time as a life or death matter realigns one’s perceptions of what’s worthwhile, and how to live life. However, once the formulaic action-movie tropes worm their way into the second act, the whole “time is money” metaphor deflates into shallow word substitution.
On the action side of things, In Time has a few cliched chase sequences sprinkled with gunshots, as Will and Sylvia (literally) run aimless circles while trading both heavy-handed and cringe-worthy dialogue. The third act of the film follows the pair on a ridiculous Robin Hood-style crime spree that is meant to be some socio-political statement, but ultimately offers only half-cooked notions about economy and society that even a first-year philosophy major could counter.
While Timberlake actually does well playing a devil-may-care street-punk anti-hero, Seyfried (usually a strong performer) is all rich girl airhead stares, punctuated by moments of unearned (and unconvincing) tough-girl bravado. A lot of what occurs with both the plot and characters during the latter second act and third act feels cobbled together and confused, and sucks whatever momentum the premise had right out of the film. Even Cillain Murphy’s character (including his ties to Will’s father) is only half-explored, and the end of his arc feels wasted and redundant compared to the amount of screen time he eats up.
Aside from the CGI neon clocks on every ones’ arms and the devices meant to transfer time, even the future in this film feels somehow half-envisioned and unimpressive. Dilapidated working-class locations serve as the “poor zone,” lavish mansion and hotel locations serve as the “rich zone,” with everything in between left unseen and unexplored, in order to paint the flimsy ideas the film raises in the most convincing light possible. No matter which side of town you live on, this future feels like nothing more than a half-dressed version of the present (you think they’d invent a few futuristic things if people could potentially live for centuries in youthful bodies).
Despite a strong start, In Time ends up being a film whose premise will probably get your brain working harder than watching the cliched, undercooked, naive, and sometimes aimless story that Niccol derived from it. Who knows: maybe with enough time someone will turn this idea into some good fan-fiction; in the meantime, think carefully about how much time you’ve got before investing it in this movie.
Check out some footage from In Time below, and rate the movie for yourself in our poll.
In Time is now playing in theaters.