A film review by Craig J. Koban November 3, 2011


2011, PG-13, 109 mins.


Will Salas: Justin Timberlake / Rachel Salas: Olivia Wilde / Sylvia Weis: Amanda Seyfried / Philippe Weis: Vincent Kartheiser / Leon: Cillian Murphy / Henry Hamilton: Matt Bomer / Fortis: Alex Pettyfer / Borel: Johnny Galecki

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol.

You know the old adage time is money?  Well, as far as the new sci-fi thriller IN TIME goes, it’s literally true. 

Like all of the best speculative science fiction, IN TIME is far more interested in its thoughtful ideas and themes than with CGI-infused pyrotechnics and mindless action mayhem.  As far as premises go, the film contains a fiendishly original and endlessly fascinating one that, more or less, carries the film successfully forward, even when it degenerates into lamentable genre conventions and clichés.  Sometimes, there’s nothing worse than when a potentially great film with equally great ideas is held back from greatness when it devolves into perfunctory gun battles and car chases, which is the source of some of my criticism against IN TIME.  Yet, as far as its intriguing ideas presented within, the film is compulsively watchable. 

In the film’s reality (whether it be the distant future or an alternate universe Earth; I believe it to be the latter) humans have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 and time has essentially replaced normal forms of currency.  Yes, time.  Time has become money.  People can spend time like money to buy things (a cup of coffee costs four minutes, a bus trip will cost you an hour, whereas a super sleek sports car will set you back about five months).  People can spend time, borrow time, lend time to others, or, of course, steal it.  Like a mirror into our modern times, society has been designated into the haves and the have-nots: the uber upper class live in luxurious and affluent cities and occupy what seems like 99 per cent of the time wealth whereas the remaining one per cent struggle to have time and live in ghettoized neighborhoods.  Hmmm…sound familiar. 

Here’s where the film gets interesting.  Every human being has what looks like an eight to ten inch DayGlo digital clock on their forearms that precisely clicks off how many years, months, days, hours, and seconds that they have left on Earth; when it hits zero the person instantly dies.  Now, as far as the aging process being halted at 25, if you “come from time” you have endless supplies of it and can theoretically live forever looking like you’re 25 (you could be 50 or 100 in actual years, but still look mid-twenties).  In essence, the rich can live forever.  As for the poor?  After 25 they basically live minute to minute, desperately working to eek out a living to expand their lives.  When they can’t earn time to buy essentials, they can borrow time at banks (subject to outrageous interests of 40 per cent) or borrow time from others by interfacing forearm clocks like USB drives.  If you’re really devious, you can steal it as well from others.   

The film tells the story of one of the have-nots, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a 28-year-old factory worker that lives in the ghettos of Dayton with his 50-year-old mother, Rachel, played by the ravishing Olivia Wilde, who looks 25 as per the laws of the film, which could give any of her sons a serious Oedipus complex.  Both of them are relatively happy, even when on any given day one of them could die if they do not earn enough time.  One day in particular proves to be fatal for Rachel, as she fails to have enough time to pay for an overpriced bus fare, and before she can reach her son for a forearm exchanging recharge she dies, leaving Will alone. 

One night while at a local bar Will comes to the rescue of an extremely wealthy man (Matt Boomer) that has over a century of time.  Knowing that a man with that much time in a ghetto bar could be dangerous, Will takes it upon himself to get the man out of there before some local time-stealing goons have their way with him.  While in hiding and when the coast is clear for them, the man confesses to Will that he is fed up with the prospects of living forever and how is life has become meaningless.  Without Will knowing, the man donates almost all of his time to Will in his sleep and then commits suicide.   



Realizing that he now has the capital to do whatever he wants, Will then takes it upon himself to get some comeuppance against the richest of society.  He travels to the most affluent zone where the richest live and after a very lucrative – but nearly fatal – trip to a casino, Will meets one of the world’s wealthiest men, Philippe Weis (MAD MEN’s Vincent Kartheiser, oozing contemptuous snobbery).  Before he can get too close, a time-enforcer cop (Cillian Murphy) catches up with Will and accuses him of stealing his benefactor’s time.  Will manages to escape, but only by using Weis’ daughter, Sylvia (an almost unrecognizable Amanda Seyfried) as a human shield and later as a hostage.  Initially, Sylvia yearns to be taken back home, but the more time she spends with Will the more her eyes open up to the capitalist greed that punctuates her father’s existence.  She decides to become Will’s accomplice as they engage in a Bonnie and Clyde-ian time stealing spree in hopes of redistributing the wealth to the underprivileged. 

IN TIME has almost pitch-perfectly arrived in theatres at a time when the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been gaining serious momentum.  The film is maybe almost too spot-on and obvious when it comes to its contemporary parallels, but like good sci-fi it takes a grandiose idea and uses it as a mirror to our current socio-cultural foibles, which ultimately makes the film both perceptive and unsettling at the same time.  Furthermore, I loved the film’s startling sense of simplicity and elegance when it comes to its retro-futuristic period design.  How often have we been bombarded by ostentatious visual effects that seem to go out of their way to throw computer fakery up on the screen to sell its setting?  IN TIME’s aesthetic hybrids décor, architecture, clothing, and cars from sources as far ranging from the 50’s to the 70’s and this creates a nifty sense of displacement.  The look of the film is greatly assisted by the virtuoso cinematography of Roger Deakins, who paints the screen with stark and cool hued colors that are often punctuated by the greenish glow of the citizens’ time clocks. 

IN TIME does have issues, though, like the fact that it’s final act does not seem as interesting as its set-up.  Particularly disappointing is how the film lets its truly involving and novel premise lose its footing under the weight of disposable action and chase sequences.  The film also left me asking far too many questions as well.  What happened to all of the old people before humans were engineered to die at 25?  Did they live until their normal and natural  deaths or were they dealt with?  How did the monetary system of time start and who started it? Why would families have babies in the ghetto when they  know what their fates will be?  Are babies automatically born with the genetic predisposition to die at 25?  Is the film set in the distant future (judging by its clues sprinkled throughout) or is it an alternate timeline?  Then there are odd peculiarities about some characters: Will kind of turns from a weak and meager man that loves his momma to a cocky and courageous crusader and finally to an avenging vigilante that seems to have a knowledge of firearms and martial arts…when the script conveniently allows it.  And, yes, Cillian Murphy is always a treasure when he plays detached and scary protagonists, but the 35-year-old actor is hardly believable as a 25-year-old. 

Still, IN TIME proves that you can get considerable mileage out of any wholly innovative premise even when the storyline gets derailed with routine formulas.  The film was written and directed by the terribly underrated Andrew Niccol, the New Zealander who penned THE TRUMAN SHOW (which fundamentally predicted - years before it occurred -  society’s obsession with reality-TV).  His directorial debut was the fantastic GATTACA, another futuristic tale regarding genetic tinkering and class struggle.  The follow-through on his sci-fi films is how humanity in the future will be unavoidably influenced – typically for the worse – by rapidly evolving technology.  IN TIME contains some rookie missteps by Niccol and certainly is not as well rounded as GATTACA, but it's nonetheless a small-scale triumph of concept.  It’s also refreshing to see films like this – and this spring's THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU – take stock in gripping and meditative ideas first and monotonous and dime-a-dozen visual effects eye candy a distant second.

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