In Time

At some unspecified time in the near (or not?) future, time has replaced money as currency and human beings have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, at which point you are given a year to die or to start “earning” more time. Of course, the rich have decades, even centuries of time stockpiled to give to their children and each other, while the poor must work, it seems, a whole day’s work just to earn another day’s life…in order to work another day to earn another day, forever. I wonder how much time it would cost to watch a movie in this world, i.e., would the length of the movie itself be factored into the cost? Would you, in other words, “pay” 2 hours of your life to watch a 2-hour movie (net cost: 4 hours)? Would the “price” of a longer movie be higher, or lower?

The premise of In Time is not overly explained, which is fine – good or bad, a premise is just an excuse to tell a story, give us interesting characters who do things, learn, change. Here, we have…not much. Rather, we have a pretty by-the-numbers ho-hummer about young, working class ghetto-dweller Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) who, in a moment of kindness, saves the life of depressed, slumming centurillionaire (what?) Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), who winds up gifting Will all of his remaining years before killing himself. Will, with this new gift of untold riches, decides to defect to the affluent “time zone” of New Greenwich with some vague notion of “bringing down the system”. After befriending young Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of the richest man who has ever walked the earth, ever (Vincent Kartheiser), the two decide to go full-Bonnie-&-Clyde on the world, with tireless “timekeeper” (cops specifically dealing in time-theft in this future world) Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) in hot pursuit.

In Time, to me, smacks of interesting-idea-but-no-idea-what-to-do-with-it. As an example of writer/director Andrew Niccol’s (author of such futurist entertainments as Gattaca, The Truman Show, S1m0ne, and the upcoming film version of Stephenie Meyer’s latest claptrap) attempt at using premise to carry story, there is a point where Will and Sylvia are trying to figure out a plan to rob a bank. Sylvia’s father owns the bank. She’s the daughter of the richest man on earth. She has an “in”. She knows all his secrets. Her family name is literally on the sign above the building. What is the brilliant plan that they devise? Why, it’s to DRIVE A TRUCK THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR. Because why bother actually writing an interesting script?

<inner monologue> "Oh yea, eat your heart out Daniel Craig. I make this picture look better than you did in Casino Royale"

Everything about the movie is far too literal, far too on-the-nose. Time is money, money is time – WHAM! The “haves” are essentially immortal, living off of the ridiculous interest rates charged by the banks they own to the “have nots”, who are forever taking out loans because they can only earn in a day literally just enough to work another day – BANG! Will’s job? To run the machine press that pumps out the very devices that the banks use to give, take, and store people’s time – IRONY! So literal is the allegory that it’s not enough for Will’s mother (Olivia Wilde) to die because she can’t afford bus fare and doesn’t have time to get home on foot – no, here we must have Will and his mother seeing each other on opposite ends of a long avenue, crying out for each other, running toward each other at full speed, so fast that when the mother’s clock stops, she doesn’t simply fall and die, but is actually launched by her forward momentum into Will’s arms, so that she may die to the accompaniment of his Anakin Skywalker scream. This is the level of storytelling sophistication we’re dealing with here.

The mommy-issue is brought up, briefly, in a manner that suggests that it might come into play later (there must be a troubling, or at least interesting, psychology to being the same age as your mother, your mother being the same age as your wife, your daughter eventually not only becoming the same age as both your wife and mother, but presumably coming to physically resemble either/both of them as well), but the issue is never brought up more than in passing. Despite an odd (and rather uncomfortable) book ending to the running-on-the-avenue scene discussed above, that moment is unfortunately, rather simplistically played for “Will has redeemed himself”, rather than “Will, and presumably every other person in this world, has some serious mommy-issues he needs to address, like now.”

Good sci-fi, especially “hard” sci-fi, lives or dies by the world that is created. In Time, by this measure, simply dies. The movie obviously goes for a “real”, gritty look (at least for the “ghettos”), but is far too clean and stylized to feel anything but fake (and not in an intentional, ironic way), yet not nearly “flashy” enough achieve Logan’s Run or Aeon Flux-level fantastic. Without any real thought put into it, the world of affluence of In Time is reduced to a collection of nice suits and evening gowns, the “ghetto” simply signs (CGI?) plastered over industrial L.A., with people dressed randomly in 50’s-looking varsity-type jackets and “sci-fi sweaters”, driving 70s muscle cars for whatever reason, giving no sense of any “life” outside of whatever random clothing was handed to them by wardrobe that morning.

The few attempts at character and world-building outside of production design ultimately not only come to nothing, but can’t even hold up on their own terms. When Will crosses over into New Greenwich, everyone can spot from a mile away that he doesn’t belong there. He’s always running, they tell him, always rushing around, always checking his clock. Rich people don’t do that, because they have decades, even centuries to spare. Rushing around is what poor people do. And yet, when we see the ghetto itself, nobody there is running (unless they’re being chased), nobody is shown to be in a rush. They stroll, hang out on street corners, chat, stare – the pace here, to me, seems even more leisurely than it does in the “leisure” part of town.

Despite all the smack I’m giving In Time, I actually didn’t hate it completely. Cillian Murphy, who always manages to class up the joint, is pretty good as the cat to Timberlake and Seyfried’s mice (though there’s no way he could pass for 25). And while not exactly ground-breaking or earth-shattering, Justin Timberlake didn’t just have me thinking “Oh, look, there’s Justin Timberlake, he’s a pop star” the whole time and, Anakin Skywalker scream aside, the more I see of him in movies, the more I realize that he’s (probably) a better actor than most people (filmmakers included) give him credit for. I enjoyed Alex Pettyfer’s performance as the petty gangster Fortis, who unknowingly sets many of the aforementioned incidents in motion. And finally, it’s nice to see Matt Bomer in movies, for all of the two and a half minutes he’s on screen here. Amanda Seyfried, unfortunately, continues her steady decline from her role in the excellent Veronica Mars to yet-another-character-I-don’t-really-care about, with a performance straight out of Julie Brown’s audition from “’Cause I’m a Blonde” (“Duck, Magnum, duck!”), though if they introduce an Oscar category for “Impossible Simulated Running in 7-Inch Heels”, we’ve got ourselves a winner.

Every year we are presented with many mediocre, middle-of-the-road, completely forgettable movies, especially in the early Fall. I couldn’t name you any in the last year or two because…well, I’ve completely forgotten them. And in 2011’s crop of mediocre, forgettable, not-quite-bad-enough-to-be-noteworthy movies, you will not likely find one much more mediocre, forgettable, or not-quite-bad-enough-to-be-noteworthy than this.


Posted on November 3, 2011, in Film Review and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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