IN TIME Review: Occasionally Smart But Very Flawed Sci-fi

In Time is half a good film - thoughtful, well-shot, and smart in places - and half a clunky, derivative, and at its worst, laughable one.

rating: 2.5

Andrew Niccol has written at least two films with a frightening level of prescience pertaining to our modern world; The Truman Show pipped to the post - and perhaps even inspired - our fascination with surveilling the mundanities of others in reality TV shows like Big Brother, whereas Gattaca voiced frightening concerns about genetic modification which are today becoming a very real possibility. His latest, In Time, a far sillier effort than his previous works, strays away from any sort of incisive commentary, and though it feels disappointingly malnourishing as a result, there's probably just about enough here for rabid sci-fi fans to still get a fair kick out of it. Quite obviously inspired by the classic Logan's Run, this film transpires in a time in which aging has essentially been halted, and once a human reaches the age of 25, they stop developing, retaining that appearance for the rest of their natural lives. To prevent overpopulation, the government has created a complex system in which, after the age of 25, every human is given 1 year of real-time, the world's currency, and through working or by personal inheritances, they can accrue more time to stay alive (indicated by an illuminated read-out on their arm). As such, the impoverished fail to make ends meet and die when their clock reaches zero, curbing the population problem, while the wealthy, some with hundreds of years on the clock, get to live long, potentially endless lives while never looking a day over their prime. When factory grunt Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) defends a wealthy - but tired of living and suicidally despondent - man in a bar, the man repays him by giving him all 116 years left on his clock, which essentially amounts to committing suicide (or "timing out" as it's called here). This causes law enforcers called Timekeepers, led by Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), to pursue him, believing he has murdered the man, while he also attracts the attention of the local mob, headed up by Fortis (Alex Pettyfer). Through use of his riches he also encounters Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), a wealthy young woman whose eyes are opened to the world's inequality, and with Salas' help, vows to restore the balance, such that nobody needs to die before their time. In Time is a frustrating film because it's packed with plenty of smart, switched-on ideas, but bungles several of them so catastrophically, beneath an overly familiar genre film veneer, that it's hard to get too enthusiastic about what writer-director Niccol gets right. There are certainly times - especially in the first act - at which Niccol seems to have a firm grasp on his world and what he's trying to say; the entire metaphor, of people living life literally day to day, is scarily reflective of our own lives if obviously boasting higher stakes. Some smart psychology abounds, also; when Salas uses his newly found riches to visit the wealthy side of town, the rich people instantly out him as having come from the ghetto because he runs everywhere, whereas those with money have essentially all the time in the world, and thus, are never in a hurry. There are some undeniably salient elements within this sketchy futuristic thriller; the philosophical element - namely Will's complete inability to understand how an old, wealthy man can be tired of living when his own time is so short - hits the Inception-esque level of contemplation that Niccol seems to be shooting for overall. There's also an interesting social structure - a series of expensive "time zones" prevent people from moving up in the world, a uniquely cruel brand of class immobilisation - and a dash of good humour throughout, with Will's mother being played by Olivia Wilde, who is in fact several years younger than Timberlake. While the film nods knowingly to the socially conscious entries into the genre, its relentlessly campy B-movie style, the criminal use of time-related puns, and an overwhelmingly socialist tone instead ensure that it's only intermittently satisfying as an entertainment, keen to steer close to genre convention. That's not all either; there are plot holes and contrivances large enough to drive an armed convoy through. For instance, if the rich can have their time so easily stolen, why don't they wear metal guards on their wrists? More worrying are two gigantic logic abandonments which nearly derail plausibility entirely; firstly, the bridge on which the rich man commits suicide conveniently doesn't have a camera in the exact spot where it happens, hence Will being framed for it. Second is an absurd scene in which Will nearly gambles his life away in a card game with Sylvia's time magnate father, Phillippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), which is completely mad even for someone who has come from the ghetto where life's value is little. The second half becomes more troublesome, as the peripheral elements are called into action; Seyfried's Sylvia is a relatively bland stock love interest, and most of the potential chemistry with Timberlake is stilted by an uneven script, packed with mediocre couples banter and the aforementioned dreadful puns. While Timberlake acquits himself well enough an action star - having come quite a way since his days as a pop musician - it's Cillian Murphy who delivers the most compelling contribution as a no-nonsense Timekeeper, running with a ferocity that suggests he's escaped a harsh life in the ghetto. Niccol could have made him a more ambiguous and interesting character, though, had he emphasised how he is, in fact, just another cog in the system like anyone else. Also, the ridiculous leather jacket he's forced to wear - probably a leftover from the last Matrix film - ruins any sense of menace he might otherwise have. It's a great concept for a sci-fi and certainly relevant as we continue to recover from the fallout of the recession, but there's a silly naiveté to its outlandishly anti-capitalist bent - essentially a breeze over a textbook explanation of socialism - that makes it unrelatable to anyone who isn't a student going through the requisite phase of rebellion. It's a shame as Timberlake proves here he deserves a solid vehicle, and Niccol has certainly shown himself capable of much stronger social satire than what is on display here. In Time is half a good film - thoughtful, well-shot, and smart in places - and half a clunky, derivative, and at its worst, laughable one. In Time is out now in the U.S. and opens on Friday in the U.K.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.