Friday, 4 November 2011

In Time

At some point in the future, genetics are used to stop the aging process of our bodies at 25. That sounds good until you realize you are only given one free year after that. From the beginning of your 27th year, you have to earn every second of your life (unless, of course, you are born into time). “Time is money” takes on a new meaning in In Time. Everyone has a clock in their arm that counts down relentlessly, measuring the seconds left in their lives. In the poorer ‘time zones’, people rarely have more than a few days worth of life left at any given moment, and that time is needed to pay for food and other services (a cup of coffee costs four minutes). So people work desperately to stay alive. Sometimes they have to borrow from friends, or from timelenders who charge exorbitant interest rates. When your clock hits zero, you die instantly.

Our hero, Will (Justin Timberlake), who is used to living on the edge, suddenly comes into some time, giving him the opportunity to see how the other half lives. This is a revelation which will start him on a crusade for justice, with a wealthy young woman (played by Amanda Seyfried) at his side and a timekeeper (Cillian Murphy) at his heels.

On the surface, In Time is a lightweight sci-fi action film. The writing is inconsistent at best, the plot needs lots of work, the 25-year-old actors are not quite up to the task (though the three actors mentioned above did well enough), the special effects are not great and so on. I can see how critics generally gave In Time mediocre reviews. But we are still on the surface.

Let’s look underneath. Among the things I did not know about this film (I knew almost nothing, as usual) was that it was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, one of the most fascinating writer/directors out there. Niccol has written such favourites of mine as The Truman Show and Gattaca. He also wrote The Terminal and Lord of War, both of which were profound in their own way. Closer to the flawed In Time was the flawed S1m0ne, but it was also full of thought-provoking ideas. That’s Niccol’s specialty and as far as I’m concerned there are few specialties more worthy of admiration than that one. In Time, for all its flaws, has more thought-provoking ideas than twenty average action films put together (maybe even 50) and that is high praise.

I mean, sure, the idea that poor people will one day rise up in protest against the wealthiest few who can live forever is obviously ludicrous. Well, okay, it’s not the most original idea in the film. But there are lots of inventive ideas and clever plays on words. For example, we think the world revolves around money, but aren’t we all just trying to live as long as we can, saving for leisure time and constantly running out of time. I, for one, am much more worried about time than money. The wealthy have all the time in the world (if they want it) because they don’t need to put in fifty hours a week to pay the bills. The underlying assumption of In Time, which unfortunately is never fleshed out, is that the wealthy few stole their time from the poor. Indeed they did, but say more.

Andrew Niccol certainly has his heart in the right place and I look forward to his next film. If I’d known that In Time was one of his, nothing could have kept me away. As it was, the critics almost dissuaded me, but I followed my gut. In Time is an intriguing film full of potential. Unfortunately the execution wasn’t there. Still, I have to give it a solid *** for making me think and for making a plea for global justice. My mug is up and the stuff inside is worth the 109 minutes it cost me to watch it.

1 comment:

  1. Right on the money, I think, Vic. Lots of good thought-provoking ideas, but lots of problems with execution. But I did like the cinematic feel of the ghetto - less so the vision of "New Greenwich," though I did appreciate the sense of "immortality" creating a kind of ennui. Also, I like subversion at times, but I'm not entirely sure this encourages the right kind of subversive activity. I agree on ***