Directed by: Andrew Niccol (Lord of War)
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde
I appreciate In Time more than I like it, and admire what it’s attempting more than what it accomplishes. There’s been a slight trend in recent years of returning sci-fi to its more conceptual roots—with films like Duncan Jones Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011), and George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau (2011)—which is a welcome change from the CGI-bluster of exploding spaceships and killer aliens in this post-Star Wars world. That In Time has something on its mind is certainly praiseworthy. Unfortunately, In Time can’t seem to overcome clunky storytelling and a tendency to regress into half-baked philosophizing.
The film’s sci-fi hook is that, in the future, human have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25-years-old. The rub is that at 25, you only have one year left to live (shown as a DayGlo clock on one’s arm), unless you can constantly “refill” your time through work or transactions—meaning time has literally become money. With time now being a commodity, the rich and privileged have hundreds—if not thousands—of years at their disposal, while the rest of the world lives day-to-day, hoping they don’t run out of time and drop dead.
Here’s where we meet Will Salas, a factory worker who lives in the ghetto, barely scraping by. When a series of unexpected events occur—the gifting of a hundred years to him by a suicidal member of the elite, Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), and the death of his mother (Olivia Wilde, The Change Up)—Will is suddenly able to access the time-rich circles of society and go on a small crusade to right the system. He quickly gets entangled with a rich girl, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of time-lending magnate, only to find himself accused of Hamilton’s murder. Will is soon on the run, hunted down by a government agent, Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), who is tasked with enforcing the status quo.
With its drab, vaguely retro-looking future, In Time is at its best when showing us its fictional world. We’re presented with a vision of a society that runs entirely on commodified time—steered by time-hoarding gangsters and elites—and faced with a perspective on what happens when morality is ignored for personal gain. Unfortunately, the ideas put forth by the film seem a bit rudimentary, as the film feels like the sketches of a college-aged Marxist with a semester of economic classes under their belt. I’m not saying these ideas are off—and with the current climate of Occupation protests, they’re certainly timely—but you can get the same ideas, with more humanity and heart, from a Kurt Vonnegut novel. In Time is also more concerned with action and entertainment than it is with exploring the philosophical questions it poses, and it’s not long before movie becomes a Bonnie-and-Clyde-by-way-of-Robin-Hood tale.
Of course, as a movie, In Time’s greatest concern should be entertainment. While it obviously wants to be more, In Time never finds right balance of action and headiness. What the film has most going for it, however, is that it had the ambition to mix these two together in the first place. Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and strong language.