Directed by Andrew Niccol (previously responsible for Gattaca) and shot by Roger Deakins, In Time made a considerable amount of money for Twentieth Century Fox in 2011, but somewhat frustratingly it’s yet another one of those high concept sci-fi movies that fails to capitalise on its intriguing premise or the talents of its principal cast and crew members. It’s also disappointing to see a writer of Niccol’s ability – he penned The Truman Show, lest we forget – short on ideas and resorting to the likes of fictional news reports as a narrative full stop.
The year is 2169, and advances in genetic engineering mean that humans are born with a digital clock on their arm. Upon reaching their 25th birthday people stop aging and are given one year to live, meaning that the ghoulish tattoo-like timepiece is always counting down and the cast is entirely populated by good-looking actors, whether they are playing 25-year-olds or 75-year-olds. Time has become the only currency of note, used for day-to-day transactions and living expenses, while also being transferred between people and organisations. If a person’s clock reaches zero they hemorrhage internally and die instantly (never has the phrase ‘faulty ticker’ been more apt); therefore the value of time causes some to steal it, some to work hard for it and others to horde it, resulting in a dystopian society where the poor constantly live with mere hours, minutes and seconds left and the rich, ruling class is able to stockpile as much as they want, effectively allowing some to live forever.
There are obvious parallels with our current global political and economic systems, but sadly ideas relating to the distribution of wealth are not explored to any satisfying extent, presumably to avoid putting some potential audience members off. Justin Timberlake plays Will, a member of the 99% who becomes a Robin Hood-esque hero when he is gifted more than a century of time by a mysterious figure. This allows Will access to the rich but arouses the suspicions of the police-like Timekeepers, led by Cillian Murphy’s trenchcoat-wearing cop. And so begins yet another sci-fi movie in which the poor, ordinary individual rises up against the oppressive 1% in order to redress the balance in society.
Admittedly there are sporadic moments of tension as characters gamble with their remaining time or desperately try to add more when there are mere seconds left, but Niccol relies too heavily on the initial idea (which itself has been seen several times before; writer Harlan Ellison even filed a suit against the director and the production company New Regency, which was later dropped). Sadly once each character is introduced there is little in the way of development, and eventually even the shots of the clocks ticking down aren’t enough to save the film from formulaic dreariness: Will does much of his running, jumping, shooting and robbing with heiress Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of wealthy time loaner Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser, exuding a little of the Slippery Pete Campbell oiliness he perfected during seven seasons of Mad Men), and before long interest in the intriguing concept begins to fade away amid all the authority-avoiding taking place.
Employing the same retro-futuristic style as he did with Gattaca works to a point, but Niccol offers no explanation about the development of genetic engineering and it seems a stretch to believe that no other simultaneous technological advancements in society have been made. As such the film’s two locales – industrial Dayton and wealthy New Greenwich – are quite boring places to spend a couple of hours, despite the best efforts of Deakins, with little detail to pique interest and no explanation as to what lies beyond. What makes this particularly disappointing is the fact that Niccol has clearly given plenty of attention to other minor aspects of his film; Will naturally checks his own clock as soon as he wakes up, for example, while usually time-rich Sylvia does not.
Ironically, given the subject matter, it feels as if In Time was rushed. Perhaps there were scheduling issues, as plenty of dodgy line delivery has been left in, with Timberlake and Murphy particularly culpable (though, it must be said, that neither performance is dreadful). The decision to cast Alex Pettyfer as the main villain, a time thief named Fortis, is a poor one; we see less and less of the character as the film progresses, which perhaps tells its own story, and the actor lacks presence here. Niccol has directed and written better films, and comes up short with this one, but there are a few good moments and there is some mileage in the intriguing central idea.
Directed by: Andrew Niccol.
Written by: Andrew Niccol.
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Wilde.
Cinematography: Roger Deakins.
Editing: Zach Staenberg.
Music: Craig Armstrong.
Running Time: 109 minutes.
NB: while messing around with my blog settings last week I accidentally turned all commenting off and have just noticed it affected three recent posts. Apologies if you wanted to comment on those reviews. You can now, if you still want to chastise me for my handling of dinosaurs, apes or Roger Ebert.