The Andrew Niccol directed In Time deserves a little bit more love than it got upon theatrical release last year. Though its critique of capitalism is pretty heavy-handed (if apt), the film has enough thrills and a great central concept which elevate it to at least that plane occupied by other recent above average sci-fi thrillers, such as Limitless and Source Code. It's at least the equal of both of those and, with Roger Deakins near peerless talent behind the camera, it looks slicker than either. Here Justin Timberlake - who following several decent films you now just have to accept as a competent actor - is a boy from the futuristic urban ghetto of Dayton, Ohio. In this future people stop ageing once they reach 25, at which point they are given one year's worth of currency. In this world time is, literally, money, the upshot of which being that the super-rich can live forever with eons in the bank, whilst the poor live day to day. For such people an unforeseen increase in the bus fare home becomes a life and death proposition. After a family tragedy Timberlake decides to redress the balance, kidnapping and seducing a rich man's daughter (Amanda Seyfried) and becoming a local Robin Hood, stealing hours from banks and giving them to ordinary chaps. Unsurprisingly, the rich don't like this very much - not least of all Seyfried's father (Mad Men's Pete Campbell Vincent Kartheiser) and a leather-clad "Timekeeper" played by Cillian Murphy, who pursues our heroes without mercy. What follows involves a few cool car chases, some high-stakes arm wrestling, a game of strip poker and a couple of bank robberies - which are all good fun, with Seyfried especially appealing company as she gets an obvious psychosexual thrill from her newly discovered life of mortality. But the star of the show is undeniably the concept itself, with green digital clocks on the wrists of the inhabitants of this world, who exchange time for every day conveniences, with the poor literally priced out of entering rich areas. They spend their lives hurriedly pacing around from dawn until dusk, trying to scrape together enough time to pay the bills and live another day - constantly watching the clock - whilst the wealthy can afford to slow down and indulge. It's not a million miles apart from our own world - like all good science fiction, In Time merely exaggerates where we are today with its central concerns routed in reality. The idea of a society in which the rich live it up due to the continued support of an exploited majority is not merely a sci-fi nightmare. When Kartheiser's business mogul warns Timberlake that he can't break the system because average people all harbour the fantasy that someday they too could be immortal, he isn't literally talking about the problems of the year 2162. Niccol's dig at capitalism isn't subtle (in fact it's the exact polar opposite of that) but it is timely - no pun intended. Sadly, the film falls down in two major respects. Firstly, there is no sense of space or (ironically) time in the movie, as Timberlake goes effortlessly between the rich side of town and the poor side whenever the plot calls for it. The first time he makes this trip it is supposed to have taken a deal of effort and requires passing through several checkpoints. It makes zero sense that he could do this as a wanted fugitive (especially in a world shown to be full of surveillance cameras), whilst it seems literally impossible for him to be able to switch between these two locations so quickly. Secondly, there are several gaps in the film's internal logic. To detail most of these who head towards spoiler country, so I'll just give one: in "the ghetto" (the cleanest, least populous area of urban decline ever seen on film) we are told that those who come into an excess amount of time are in danger of being robbed by armed thugs - a sensible enough idea considering we're talking about people literally on the verge of death who might steal another's life in desperation. However, Timberlake and Seyfried dole out the hours they steal very casually and in public, at one point handing a small girl a box containing one million years. It's also odd that they experience more success as robbers than Alex Pettyfer's slightly laughable (and never threatening) career criminal, quickly making more time than they know what to do with whilst he looks on enviously. But these gripes, while preventing the film from achieving anything like greatness, don't spoil what is an entertaining and thoughtful little movie. It looks stylish, has a uniformly sexy cast (a fringe benefit of the whole "nobody over 25" thing), and takes on some interesting ideas not often expressed in Hollywood movies (themselves the product of tyrannical capitalist overlords). I don't know about you, but I'd rather watch something that's a little clunky but with bags of imagination and ambition than 95% of the dreck that's out there.
The film maybe interesting but the extras most certainly are not. Props, I suppose, are due for the idea behind 16 minute pretend documentary "The Minutes", in which the actors stay in character, filling in backstory and talking about the futuristic world of the film as though it were real. Some new characters are introduced, supporting players are given a forum to flesh out their roles and a lot of (unnecessary) information is given about how the world got into this state, which might be of interest to die-hard fans of the film (if such an animal exists). Yet it's really, honestly just pretty dull. The only other special feature is a 12 minute run of deleted scenes, most of which are simply scenes from the final cut of the film extended with one or two extra lines, or edited slightly differently. On this evidence, nothing that was cut out of the film warranted inclusion, with a lot of the extra lines just clumsily over-explaining things which the audience is able to work out anyway. The only exception is a scene which explains how out heroes come to possess an armoured van - but if you can't suspend your disbelief enough to imagine how these characters obtained a van, then you really have no business watching In Time to begin with.
A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.