– Summary –
Director : Andrew Niccol
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki, Vincent Kartheiser.
Approx Running Time : 109 Minutes
Synopsis: In the near future, time has replaced money as the predominant form of currency – you must earn more time or die suddenly, and society has become divided into classes: the time poor, and the time rich. When one young man, disenfranchised with society as a whole, is given nearly a century from somebody from the richer zones, he embarks on a mission to upset the balance of power and give those struggling day-to-day more time to live.
What we think : Hi-concept, lo-fi execution sees Justin Timberlake take on a lead role in a feature – and perform most admirably in the part. Niccol’s usual visual acumen is superb, even if the dystopian future seems like it was filmed in the back alleys of LA, but the story perhaps isn’t as strong as needed for a full feature – it’s a good enough way to pass a bit of time on a lazy afternoon; if you’re lazy, and you don’t mind wasting an afternoon.
It would be easy to describe director Andrew Niccol as something of an auteur. I doubt that’s what he had in mind when he began his career in film, although I suspect he’s slipped into that niche almost by accident. It’s no surprise to see his latest film, 2011’s In Time, once more attempts to dissect our humanity in new and interesting ways within a science fiction framework. Niccol’s previous directorial efforts, specifically Gattaca and S1m0ne, gave us glimpses into his reflective and analytical narrative methods, usually high-concept science fiction told in a subtle, intellectual way instead of the usual flash-bang of Hollywood cliche. His films have usually met with critical acclaim, although perhaps not quite reaching the wide audience they deserved – due mainly to his less bombastic storytelling methods. In Time fits neatly into the well-worn mold of Gattaca, with a renegade human trying to buck – and then change – the system in which humanity lives. Repressive control seems to be a continuing narrative hook for Niccol, and he’s flexed his muscles once more to deliver a film both nearly thrilling and almost thought provoking. Whether it fits into your traditional action-thriller expectations isn’t the point of this film; Niccol seems less inclined to deliver big-budget sequences of explosions and offer a more low key approach, so keep that in mind going in.
150 years into the future, genetic engineering has altered humanity so that we stop aging at 25 – once we reach that year, we only have a further 12 months of life left, unless we obtain more “time”. Time is the new money in the future, and is bought, traded, stolen and used much like money is today; although unlike money, if you don’t have time then you don’t have life. Implants in peoples arms display the amount of “time” they have left; the lower social classes have less, while the richer people living in the utopian New Greenwich have ample. Some of the very rich have thousands of years of life to live – they’re essentially immortal. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), an inhabitant of one of the Ghetto’s, watches as his mother (Olivia Wilde) dies in his arms after failing to obtain enough time to make it through her 50th birthday. When he stumbles across a wanderer from one of the richer zones, who passes on over a century of time to Sallis before committing suicide, Sallis is given the power to change not only his own destiny, but that of everyone else living in the Ghetto. Using his new-found wealth, he travels to New Greenwich, where he lives the life of a rich person, before the meeting mega-wealthy Phillipe Weiss (Vincent Kartheiser) and his daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). His acquisition of the extra time comes with a consequence, however. Sallis is pursued into New Greenwich by a Time Keeper, Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), who is intent on returning the stolen time to its rightful owner. Sallis is also pursued by Ghetto thug Fortis (Alex Pettyfer), who seeks to keep the balance of power within the ghetto. When he escapes New Greenwich with Sylvia as a “hostage”, Sallis goes on a robbery spree to steal and distribute time to those who need it most, setting in motion a chain of events that will see the rich and powerful of New Greenwich seek to destroy them both.
By the time the credits rolled, I had the sneaking suspicion I’d seen it before. The film, that is. I couldn’t help that nagging feeling of deja vu creeping over me, and before the credits finished, I knew what it was. In Time is a lot like any version of Robin hood you’ve ever seen. A bandit (Sallis) steals from the rich (Phillipe) and gives to the poor, accompanied by a fair damsel (Sylvia), while being pursued by the Sheriff (Raymond) and loved by the people. That’s what this film boils down to. Sure, it skirts social commentary on how we live our lives as slaves to the almighty dollar, and how the ever-widening gap between rich and poor is a terrible indictment on human greed, but at its heart it’s a retelling of Robin Hood. Not that I mind, of course, but don’t let anybody tell you this film is something original. Where Niccol has succeeded in hoodwinking us, is in the execution. The ultra-modern society, mixed with the ghetto-like existence of the starving masses, and the unfair bias towards those with time to spend, is something we’ve seen before in many a sci-fi opus, but here Niccol attempts to present a more even-handed commentary than the concept might otherwise have asked. At its core, In Time is a thriller, with the constant running down of seconds on people’s arms a reminder of the price we must all pay when our time is up. The hows and the whys aren’t explained, and thank God for that, because to try doing so would reduce the films already paper-thin internal science, and that’s needed to keep the premise alive throughout the story.
Robin Hood aside, In Time is hardly a swashbuckling sci-fi romp. It is decidedly low key, a subtle, methodical film with an uneven heavy-handed subtext; albeit well filmed and produced. Don’t go into this expecting explosions and running gunbattles. Niccol handles what little action there with elegance, although he shrouds a lot of it in darkness and shadow, imbuing the film’s stark visual aesthetic with a grimy, urine-stained tonality, bringing a ghastly pallor to a lot of the ghetto-set sequences. Timberlake handles his role well, although his character isn’t really that well defined – at least, not by Niccol’s standards. Sallis has all this rage and anger, all this hostility, but the script seems intent to never develop his persona beyond just that, and I think this is where the film falls a little. Sallis’ relationship with Sylvia is a bizarre one: Niccol seems to want them to be romantically engaged, yet he seems to keep them at a distance emotionally, making the moments they do develop intimacy feel somewhat false, almost forced upon us. Seyfried is up to the task of the suitably hot future-girl role, but she lacks spark with Timberlake on-screen, and her character is frustratingly shallow. Her motivations for joining Sallis on his spree are simplistic, almost 1 dimensional, and Sylvia’s change of heart once free of her father’s protective clutches doesn’t seem as emotional as I think it should.
Cillian Murphy’s character, the Timekeeper, is a weird one. The film hints at larger things for him, and develops him as a major player, but as a character he’s just another dude with a gun. The act of pursuing Sallis, aside from the trigger of having excessive time, seems more important than the reason why; Murphy seems like a fish out of water in this film, since his character should have had a harder edge to him, in contrast to Sallis’ fugitive failings. I think this is a case of Murphy being miscast in a role – I hate to say it, because I think Cillian’s been brilliant in everything else I’ve seen him in. Far and away the best character in the film, is Phillippe, played by Vincent Kartheiser. As the impossibly time-rich Phillippe, Kartheiser does a wonderfully sly turn that almost – almost, mind you – outshines Timberlake. Kartheiser’s smooth facial features, his ageless appearance, ensures his creep-factor is high, while his character goes about a passionless, near-pointless lifestyle of parties and… well… living. Again, his character is pretty 1 dimensional, although in the context of this film, Phillippe’s relationship with Sallis, and by extension Sylvia, is as close to a genuine arc as we get. Sharp eyed observers will spot Alex Pettyfer as a thug getting about the ghetto, and much like the Timekeeper, you get the sense that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than we actually see with him – but the film never allows us to see it. And it’s always good to see Olivia Wilde in things – she’s solid yet underwritten as Sallis’ mother. Big Bang Theory fans will also enjoy seeing Johnny Galecki as an unkempt neighbor and friend of Sallis’ from the ghetto – although again his role is underwritten and his exit from the film is perfunctory.
If there’s a continuing theme in this review that could reflect my feelings about the movie, it’s “underdeveloped”. Niccol’s got plenty of ideas, it’s just that In Time fails to maximize the use of them. Characters seem distant, almost aloof throughout, as if the emotion of the story has been sucked out somehow. The narrative flits between Sallis and the Timekeeper, and occasionally on Fortis and Phillippe, lacking a focus on just whose story is most important to tell – here’s a hint, it should be Sallis. As an action thriller, it’s passable in fits and spurts, while as a science fiction take on modern financial systems, it’s heavy handed and predictable. On the plus side, Timberlake and Seyfried aren’t the ugliest people to watch for 90 minutes, and the story does move at a brisk pace (too brisk, if you ask me – there’s no time for us to get to know the characters), so viewers with short attention spans might enjoy it. Those seeking a more enlightening film experience will feel shortchanged: not from the lack of ideas in the film, just from the somewhat anemic execution of them. In Time is a missed opportunity, and as such, there’s a joke about “getting that 90 minutes back” that’s just begging to come out.