A clever premise is never a bad thing for a movie to utilize as its main selling point, unless the plot device is completely shoved down your throat to the point of no return. A sci-fi film benefits the most from witty reinvention since a dystopian future has been a setting that’s worn out its welcome by now. Andrew Niccol knows this best, after writing and directing one of the best science fiction tales in the last two decades with Gattaca.
It told of a “not-too-distant future” where DNA determines what job and social status you’ll fit into; the better the genes are, the better life will be for you. Niccol borrows from himself to create a new film, In Time. Like before, he introduces a fresh concept that drives his picture almost as effectively as it did in Gattaca. However, because of an over reliance on satisfying action fans, it leaves many questions left unanswered by the end of it.
The supposed “not-too-distant future” is once again implied, featuring a contemporary setting that has cars straight out of Knight Rider and neighbourhoods where the rich and the poor are never within arms reach of one another. Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, who narrates the opening scene about the mechanism in the film that’s deemed so important. It’s also the first thing that appears onscreen too, a digital green clock embedded on the arm of every living being that determines how long you have to live.
Up until the age of 25 the clock is inactive, but once you hit that adult stepping stone, life literally begins winding down. You never age a day again, but that comes with the price of only having a year to live. Earn more time by working jobs, or inherit decades of it from wealthy parents. It’s a future that is similar to ours where the rich keep getting rich (and in this case even immortal) and the weak struggle on a day-to-day basis for survival. Unfortunately if you’re broke and the clock strikes zero, that means game over and time has run out.
The film starts off with Will waking up on his mother’s 50th birthday, and he greets her with a bottle of champagne. It’s a smart move having Olivia Wilde play Timberlake’s parent, but it’s unsettlingly at first seeing the two grope each other like only mother and son do. Once the awkward imagine melts away it’s easy to accept all the beautiful people from that point on, who each claim to be over the age of 75 without a single wrinkle or blemish. It’s just one of the many alluring qualities adapted from In Time’s solid premise that keeps the film engaging enough once it essentially becomes one outstretched chase sequence after another.
Will finds himself with a lot of time suddenly, and after prior events set him on a course of revenge, the film loses its identity sporadically. We know Will is angry and determined to make high society pay for their overcompensation of prosperity, but he himself falls victim to the pleasures of wealth too. Now that he has time, he sleeps in, hits on waitresses, buys nice clothes and gets a fancy car no one would ever dream of driving. Instead of a Mastercard he just swipes his arm; who even needs a wallet anymore in this future?
For a while In Time has Timberlake enjoying his seconds of richness while winning us over with a great deal of charm. His James Bond antics even include a high stakes poker game with the notion of going “all in” being exactly what it sounds like. But before Timberlake can ask for a martini shaken not stirred, he’s a fugitive on the run with a beautiful hostage (Amanda Seyfried) who was drawn to him even before he pointed a gun at her waist.
As previously mentioned, from this moment on the film officially becomes a game of cat and mouse with a bit of Bonnie and Clyde subtext thrown in for good measure. It never runs on full steam however, since the duo themselves aren’t aware of what ‘s the next move and their confusion on the matter is on par with our own muddled understanding on where In Time is going.
The same goes for the digital clock and its involvement. While it creates lots of opportunity early on for inventive thoughts or ideas of use, it’s quickly subjected to being a device that forces characters to run and find more amounts of time. That’s not to say there isn’t any fun here. A particular scene where an arm wrestling match (holding hands exchanges time between the two participants) suddenly erupts into acts of extreme violence is well staged and choreographed. As for the chase scenes, they are handled with skill and are exciting enough to keep us entertained even if they border on a rinse and repeat format after a while.
Timberlake once again adds another good performance to his evolving resume. His first foray into an action star is a good one even if it requires him to be a stock character with basic intentions. He seems fully capable of stepping into different genres with full confidence, which enhances his appeal as an actor. The rest of the cast does what’s asked of them admirably with each having a standout moment or two. Seyfried is as sexy as ever with her bob cut hairdo and succeeds in pulling off the innocent young girl routine where she becomes seduced by the wrong side of town. The chemistry between her and Timberlake works despite a rocky start that has them meeting too conveniently.
Cillian Murphy as a timekeeper -which is In Time’s version of police officers- is a role that doesn’t stretch his acting abilities but allows for him to have a chance at playing the older authority figure can’t bare to see the system collapse due to Will’s rebellion. The real bad guy here is actually a 75-year-old gangster named Fortis, played with an extra measure of menace by Alex Pettyfer. He may have been a pretty boy in other teenage-oriented films but as a supporting role, he works exceptionally well at adding a pragmatic screen presence in limited doses. Pettyfer and Timberlake have a terrific showdown that is filled to the brim with suspense and executed perfectly.
There’s a lot to like about In Time, but it misses the mark for being an overly memorable experience. With a wicked premise chalk full of depth, it settles for adequacy by focusing on chase scenes to get the blood pumping as a substitute to exploring the idea of time as currency. There are glimpses of what could have been a classic sci-fi tale, but In Time’s flaws are too obvious. Despite its shortcomings, the film is still entertaining with help from a well-rounded cast of actors up to the challenge of making their characters somewhat two-dimensional. Half the crap in theatres now isn’t nearly as interesting or provocative as what’s provided here. At least see it to judge for yourself if this disheartening “not-too-distant future” is closer in time then it appears.