Monday, November 21, 2011

New Release Review: In Time (Andrew Niccol, 2011)

In Time is set in a future existence, where genetic alteration has allowed humanity to develop a system where individuals stop ageing at exactly 25 years after their birth. As a result of overpopulation, the time each person has left to live has replaced money as the primary currency. Following the age of 25, citizens must start to work (factory labour for example) to accrue time, which is used so that they can continue to survive and afford life’s necessities. If their personal clock (worn on their arm in flashing green) reaches zero, they die instantly. We are immediately introduced to our protagonist, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), who lives in the working class ghettos with his mother Rachel (Olivia Wilde).

Early on there is an action sequence that emerges from nowhere, and offers up no explanation why Will acts as he does. Then there is a forced scene of exposition, as Henry Hamilton, a man Will rescues from the clutches of a time-stealing gang, reveals the truth about the inequity in class and wealth between the time zones. This is followed by a tragedy involving Will’s mother that should have drawn an emotional response, but didn’t. When the story actually begins I can’t say I was hooked.

Will, given a century of time by Hamilton before he commits suicide, and now with enough time to make a difference, seeks revenge on the system - travelling covertly through several time zones to New Greenwich, the land of the rich. He quickly learns how to flaunt his new-found wealth and assimilate into the lavish lifestyle of the residents. He takes on a millionaire time-loaning businessman, Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), at poker, and impresses his daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) enough to warrant an invitation to a lavish mansion party.

When Timekeepers (a police unit who investigate time theft), led by field veteran Raymond Leon (an always effective Cillian Murphy), crash the party in search of Will, he uses Sylvia as a hostage and takes her along. Though initially repulsed by her kidnapping, she has despised her entrapment and lack of 'living' and soon embraces her freedom. She becomes a Bonnie-like sidekick.

In Time really wasn’t very good at all. Though the premise is intriguing and could have made for an exciting film, it is tricky to pull off when simultaneously trying to build a plausible alternate-existence and develop a story. The result, unfortunately, is a film with stilted, heavy-handed and predictable storytelling plagued with plot holes, dramatic conveniences and things that just make no sense in general.

The ‘Robin Hood’ theme is commendable, and inspiring even. With such an imbalance in wealth Will and Sylvia rob the rich residing in New Greenwich, who are stockpiling time with the intention of remaining immortal, and distribute it to the struggling working class in the ghettos. Unfortunately, as Will and Sylvia find themselves hunted by both Timekeepers and Minutemen (the same gang as before who are now interested in the reward for the pair's capture), Niccol fails to create any effective tension or build a story that offers up any surprises. It has some moments of brief excitement - there is a car chase, and several foot pursuits - but the stakes and the emotional involvement have not been developed enough for a viewer to really care what happens. The conclusion is just so silly, it isn’t worth talking about.

The talented Amanda Seyfried looked sexy (I’m a fan) but her performance stood out as being especially woeful. Timberlake, a decent actor for a guy who started his career in pop music, wasn’t an effective lead either. He looks the part, and could convincingly pull of the physical stunts, but he fared poorly in the emotional scenes. Also, I found it hard to accept that as soon as he accrues some time, he is also suddenly able to hold his own in physical combat and skillfully wield a gun. There was also something about him taking the same path as his father - mentioned a couple of times but never becoming an essential part of the plot. Cillian Murphy has his usual seemingly effortless screen presence, but he is given little to do, and a hammy turn by Mad Men regular Vincent Kartheiser as a lipsticked villain blows any potential there.

On a positive note, the film did look great, thanks to the photography of master DP Roger Deakins, and it does develop some intriguing ideas. The premise itself is a clever one, and it makes you think about how you would choose to live your life if you knew you had to work to survive for one more day. It also makes you think about the possibility of looking 25 for the rest of your life. What I thought the film did well, and this came through in some of the performances, was conveying that despite the appearance of the characters, those who are old (Cillian Murphy’s character is about 70 for example) begin to feel it – becoming jaded, world-weary and naturally reaching a point where they have ‘had enough’. Weis desires immortality but Niccol suggests that humans are meant to die at some point, but not to the extent of fearing death and checking their arms on a regular basis. I wasn’t rapt with In Time at all. A top premise, some stunning visuals and a strong cast are all wasted by poor execution – and a plethora of political messages that exist as missed opportunities.

My Rating: ★★ (C-)


  1. I'll stop delaying on my review and write it up today, but let it be said I felt the same way you do. I imagine this will be playing on cable tv for the end of time, but that's all it is. A rainy day movie to waste time.

  2. Yeah, it really was quite forgettable. A middle of the road, intermittently exciting sci-fi that fails to utilise an intriguing premise in it's most effective way. The plot just unravelled way too conveniently, and there were things that made no sense. It's a shame, because I do like the cast, and Niccol's previous work (writing THE TRUMAN SHOW and directing GATTACA).

  3. It really annoys me that a film with a premise as good as this turned out to be so awful. Why, oh why! I'm sure if it was based on a Phillip K. Dick novel it would've been a lot better.

  4. I think everyone is in pretty much consensus with this: Great premise, lackluster execution, and just too much plain silliness.

  5. @ Tyler - No doubt. It is a shame. It's a pretty half-assed set up too. It just seemed like Niccol was unsure how to utilise the idea. Plagued by some awful early scenes, the film never became compelling - and then got sillier and sillier.

    @ Sam - Totally. It's not a film that is ever really boring, or unenjoyable, it's just frequently lacklustre and disappointing.