IN TIME (2011)
Film Review by Dan Keohane
IN TIME (2011) is an interesting, if not completely well-executed, science fiction story from Andrew Niccol, writer/director of one of my favorite sci-fi films, GATTACA (1997), and writer of another favorite: THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998). Niccol spins an interesting story in most everything he does but… well, though I found the premise of IN TIME very cool, and it was well-acted for the most part, it was no GATTACA.
Here’s the poop for you folks who never read the entire review: the movie felt too long. Though it clocked in at under two hours, and I’ve watched all twelve hours of the LORD OF THE RINGS (2005+) trilogy without blinking (granted, no-blinking is one of my movie-watching quirks, but here I’m being metaphorical), so being long is not a problem, having a film feel too long, well, that’s not a good thing.
The movie is broken into three interesting blocks of plot, any two of which could have been culled out of the script and the third expounded upon to make a great, in-depth science fiction film. Smooshed together as they were into one flick, it was a lot of stuff to watch on the screen without ever getting too interested in any one aspect. Each “chapter,” as we’ll call them, was almost-interesting.
In the future (I guess it’s the future – doesn’t rally say and the only way you can really tell is that the cars are electric – but more on them in a second – let’s just say it’s a What If world), we’ve tapped into the aging genes of humans so when anyone turns twenty-five years old, they stop aging. Yikes, you say, won’t that cause overpopulation? No, because we are born with a bio-electric timer shining from our left arm, reading 0001:00:00:0:00:00—one year. When you hit twenty-five, you stop aging and the clock starts ticking. 0000:11:30:6:23:59 and so on. Months, days, hours… and when it hits zero, you die, but death is staved off as long as you work, or your spouse or friend or parents work, and earns more time. No money in this world, only time: the most precious commodity in this world because once you run out of it—system shutdown. No restarts. (Though a sequel could always be done: IN TIME 2: ZOMBIE RESTART.. hmmm).
One plot point which is key to the entire film: you can exchange hours. A small girl walks up to someone in the street and says, “Got a minute, sir?” She’s not looking to talk, but begging for a spare minute. If you own too many days or years on your arm and find yourself in a tough part of town, someone can jump you and steal all of them, draining your life from you. This time exchange is clever. How they actually do it is silly, but I can’t think of a better way without everyone walking around with a bio-reader on their belt.
Justin Timberlake (BAD TEACHER, 2011, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010, ‘N SYNC: IN THE MIX Documentary, 2001) plays Will Silas, twenty-eight years old and hasn’t aged a day in three years. Will lives with his mother, Rachel (Olivia Wilde – COWBOYS & ALIENS, 2011, HOUSE M.D., 2007-2011), who still looks twenty-five, though plans to celebrate her fortieth birthday when the film opens. At first I thought it odd that a twenty-eight year old still lives with his mother, but people have little time for much else than work in their neighborhood, known as a district. Prices are inflated unexpectedly by some unseen governmental agency (unseen by the residents, at least). A cup of coffee costs 4 hours (you pay in hours, days, etc). Bus fare has jumped from 1 to 2 hours (yes, I’ve stopped spelling out the numbers in this review, taking a break from Strunk & White for now). People live hand-to-mouth (or arm to mouth since their arms are always displaying the remaining hours of their lives).
I found this world fascinating. Will and his mom trade a few hours so one of them can make it to work and back without dropping dead. Will’s job has increased his quota so when he gets paid it’s only a pittance. Suppression of the masses is the obvious goal here, and the picture being painted by the filmmakers. I would think that these ghettos would be boiling pots of angst, with riots being common occurrences, but they aren’t. Everyone is docile and seems resigned to their fate of scraping enough time together to live another day. Not sure how accurately this would play out in the real world.
One cool behavior of the poor folks in this district is the constant, repetitive act of checking their arms to gauge how much time they have left. Always aware, and wary, of the clock. At one point, Will says, “In this neighborhood, you learn not to sleep in.”
Quick shout out to Johnny Galecki (THE BIG BANG THEORY, 2007-Present, ROSANNE, 1992-1997) as Will’s frumpy best friend, struggling to support his wife and new baby. His story is brief but the few scenes he plays in are powerful, and I would have liked to see him more. Galecki has a good screen presence.
When Will encounters a stinking rich guy played by Matt Bomer (Bryce Larkin from CHUCK, 2007-2009, THE GUIDING LIGHT 2001-2003) flaunting 115 years shining from his arm, he saves the stranger from a marauding gang which terrorizes the district and wants to take the century of life for themselves. This rich guy, Henry Hamilton, explains that he’s lived over a hundred years and people shouldn’t live this long. He wants out, and gives all of his time to Will while he sleeps except for 5 minutes, enough time to wander out to a bridge and die to his own terms.
“For a few to live forever, many more must die,” he tells Will. This line is repeated later and is the crux of the story, of the world they live in.
The next “chapter” comes when Will, after trying to use his money to help his best friend, mother and a charity mission on the corner, but mostly failing, decides to see how the other, richer half live in order to find a way to fix the problems in his district, to stop the insanity, and to avenge those who have died needlessly.
This world is also interesting, in a snobby, boring kind of way. Centered in the downtown of a nameless city, it is populated exclusively by black and grey-clad rich people with centuries glowing from their arms. They have an almost unlimited supply time. There are people who “come from time” (instead of coming from money), but time is also squeezed from the poorer masses. There is no middle class, you are either poor and on the edge of death, or are virtually immortal. If there is a middle class, it is the police force, called Timekeepers, which enforces the “balance” of time-ownership amid the lower class, investigating when one person’s supply spikes suddenly. In effect, they enforce the upper class requirement that the poor stay poor and the rich become richer.
Oh, let’s mention the cars again. I said above that the only sign this was a “future” world were the cars. The rich and the timekeepers all drive cars. Slowly, lest someone bumps into something and gets hurt. The cars are electric because they whine, no motor noises. And the doors close with a hissing “fwoop!” This is a real nit-picky thing, but this is a sci-fi movie, and us fan-boys always nit-pick details. Everyone has by now seen at least one Hybrid and/or electric car. They don’t make noise. A Prius could sneak up behind you and the only sound to give it away are the tires rolling over pebbles. They don’t whine, at least not like these cars. And, there’s no need for doors to hermetically seal themselves. If there was, make all the doors do that in the film, not just every now and then when the sound effects person remembers to. OK, I’ve given voice to my geekie-ness. Back to the film review.
One of the big shots in this world is Philippe Weis, a flush-faced, quietly sinister man, well-played by Vincent Kartheiser (MAD MEN, 2007 -Present). He owns most of the banks and controls many of the prices charged for services and products—well, he and a cartel we meet only on audio conference call. There doesn’t seem to be much of a government here, just wealthy people controlling all. Weis’ daughter, Silvia, is a spoiled, bored rich girl who finds her time with Will more exciting than her last 27 years combined. She becomes infatuated with him, even when Will escapes the police using her as a hostage to save himself from being falsely arrested for killing Henry Hamilton. Silvia is a pretty convincing bored, rich girl, played by Amanda Seyfried (RED RIDING HOOD, 2011, AS THE WORLD TURNS, 1999-2001), with her constant, narrowed-eyed look of intense angst.
In this world of wealth, and especially the scenes where there is a large crowd of people, the sheer scope of casting this film became apparent. Seriously, everyone in the world stops aging at 25 years, so no forty year-old actors could get a job here. Everyone is not only 25, but pretty. Many of the extras wore make up, I’m sure. But to find a primary cast who can act and carry a film, actors had to be pulled from film and television. Kartheiser’s most recent success was television, as was Bomer’s, not to mention a lot of folks were once actors in soap operas (hence my seemingly-odd choices in parenthetical credits above, but I do this to make a point). This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I like it, it’s good (ok, what song did I just quote? Anyone?).
What isn’t convincing in this film is the love affair between Silvia and Will as “Chapter 3″ kicks in, where they pull a Bonnie & Clyde/Robin & Marion crime spree, stealing time from her father’s grip and giving it to the poor. Seriously, after losing all the time he’d gotten from Bryce, Will is down to a few hours remaining. Yet he and Sylvia in this short span fall in love with each other and have sex—or almost manage to a couple of times. Their whole relationship felt like a Hollywood requirement for a love story in every film, even if it needs to be crowbar-forced into the script.
Woven throughout the three components of the film, two groups are in pursuit of Will and his time. The Timekeepers, led by Officer Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy – INCEPTION 2010, THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008), look like refugees from the MATRIX (1999) movies—long black coats, overly-serious expressions, sunglasses. This look did not work. It worked in THE MATRIX because it was new and stylish, but here it looks a bit pompous. Murphy’s early scenes tracking Will and trying to catch him are dull – I mean dull… I was not impressed at all with how they did up these cops. Until the last third of the film, when the pursuit of Will and Silvia becomes a personal thing to Officer Leon, then Murphy breaks his character out of the stereotype and acts human again. It’s rare for a character to seem so dull and one-dimensional at first, and then become one of the better players in a film at the end, but that is the case here.
The other group, the “mob” which terrorizes the poor district, is led by a pretty dude named Fortis (Alex Pettyfer – I AM NUMBER FOUR, 2011, BEASTLY, 2011). Initially they are pursuing Will after he rescues Hamilton from their clutches, then they fade into the woodwork of the film, forgetting about Will except for an occasional moment when they accidentally come across him again, eventually leading to a final showdown—but this is more a scene to show the bad guy (one of them at least, there are quite a few in this movie) get his comeuppance, rather than any actual plot resolution.
That’s the thing with IN TIME – there are so many threads and stories throughout this movie, it was hard as a viewer to become fully vested with any of them, because there wasn’t enough time spent in any of them.
As a way to close out, let’s compare IN TIME to GATTACA one more time. Not everyone liked Niccol’s 1997 masterpiece, but GATTACA works, with a background story that was huge, and similar in theme to IN TIME, where this new movie falters. In GATTACA, genetic engineering at conception produces perfect people, and those born naturally are considered a lower caste in society. Niccol focused on one story about a natural-born man who wants to be an astronaut and what he is willing to do to accomplish this. Granted, the three primary actors were Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law, and that had a lot to do with the film’s power, but the story was also narrowly-focused, so the viewer could hold on and relish it.
With IN TIME, an entire film of the poor district, the daily struggle just to stay alive, the gangs terrorizing the people for their time and thus their life, the Mission run by a young man collecting time a minute at a time only to give it away every day, would make for a pure, simple and fascinating story. The world of the rich, with their slow movements and eternal life, built on the backs and the lives of the poor, yet who lead an empty existence, could be another (though less emotional). The crime spree of Timberlake’s and Seyfried’s characters might also make a good story, if you keep the pursuit of them by the Timekeeper and the angry reaction of the gangsters to their giving away of stolen time to everyone: also an interesting story.
Together, though, it becomes a meal overloaded with too many rich ingredients, fighting for your taste and attention, dulling the impact of each. Sometimes three smaller meals over time makes for a better, richer experience.
I’ll give IN TIME 2.5 Knives out of 5… ok, back to Strunk & White’s rules: I give IN TIME two and a half knives out of five.
© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane
Dan Keohane gives IN TIME ~ two and a half knives.