Midweek Movie Review: In Time

On paper In Time looks fantastic: A sci-fi thriller set in a future where genetic engineering has liberated Mankind from disease and the ageing process. Accidents and violence are the sole cause of death, and you can in theory live forever in a slim, model-gorgeous body that will never age beyond 25.

Of course “in theory” falls away whenever there is a commodity at stake, and in this future, in a bid to control overpopulation, time has replaced money as a currency. When the digital clock on your left forearm counts down to zero, you drop dead. And while the rich hoard years and centuries, the poor live literally day to day, desperately trying to meet their factory quotas, rarely reaching their fiftieth birthday and never daring to dream that they will one day have enough spare time to pay the toll that separates their ghetto from the other, increasingly expensive, “time zones.”

Truly, In Time’s universe is fascinating. I would happily play a GTA-esque action game with this setting (video game makers, take note!). However, as brilliant as the concept is – and as littered as the film world is with clever visual touches like billboards for “99 Second Stores” – In Time is hamstrung by its ADHD approach to storytelling.

Writer-director Andrew Niccoll, who scripted The Truman Show, and gave audiences the intelligent and entertaining Gattaca and Lord of War, seems unable to focus in In Time. So wage slave Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), having been unexpectedly gifted with centuries of time by a suicidal billionaire(Matt Bomer), begins with a quest to avenge his mother’s death because of the corrupt system. But then he starts to revel in the life of leisure afforded to the rich... before getting caught up in Bonnie and Clyde shenanigans with Amanda Seyfried’s suffocated heiress. Meanwhile, Cillian Murphy’s driven timekeeper (read: police officer) pitches up to explain that Will’s father was also a Robin Hood character, breaking the law and challenging the social order by giving time to the poor. Oh, and there’s also Alex Pettyfer’s nasty gangster who rules the ghetto by arm wrestling time away from his enemies.

As you can see, In Time is stuffed with narrative threads, most of which terminate suddenly and pointlessly. You can’t help feeling that the movie would have been stronger plot-wise if the tangle had been chopped away and the audience allowed to follow a single, straightforward storyline, more leisurely and thoroughly explored.

Honestly, I was prepared to forgive In Time some narrative weakness given how intriguing the film’s future vision is – the speed at which people do things has become a sign of social status, for example. However, In Time starts tripping over the clutter it insists on shovelling on viewers. Logic gaps open up and you find yourself pondering things like why, if time is so precious, is security at its “banks” so lax? And what is the role of the Internet in this setting?

Don’t get me wrong. In Time is not a terrible film. It’s certainly not subtle – either in terms of its many time puns or inequality commentary – but it’s stylish, well made and well acted (Timberlake convinces in his first serious headlining role). It’s just that the film as a whole is horribly disappointing, failing to realise the full potential of its concept. In the end you can file In Time alongside 2009's similarly fascinating but flawed sci-fi tale Surrogates (my review).


Tim said…
Have to agree with everything you wrote. My imagination extrapolated a much better movie from the trailer than this turned out to be.
A Gamer's Wife said…
Thanks for the interesting review since I wasn't planning on seeing the movie. Funnily, I caught Surrogates on TV recently, and because I was expecting it to be terrible, it was actually somewhat enjoyable.

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