Dir. Andrew Niccol; Star. Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy; USA; 2011.
** (out of 4). In Time – the SF Robin Hood movie where a bandit steals time from the rich and distributes it to the poor in a future where time has replaced money as currency – is a big ball of cheese. But it does have one interesting aspect: its unlikely critique of capitalism. As the plot develops the movie slowly begins to feel like an endorsement of communism but changes gears and advocates anarchy. The “profit is everything” mindset has won the culture war of human ambition so a mainstream movie, one so broad and styling itself as fashionable is a surprising place to house this kind of critique. After the movie ended I spent more time being amused by the unlikely presence of its subversive message than I did thinking about the movie’s actual content. But ultimately its endorsement of anarchy is reducible to a “the system sucks, man” commentary, true to the movie’s overall level immaturity.
In Time is somewhat reminiscent of Gattaca, director Niccol’s best movie: a provocative dramatization of a world where the genetic engineering of humans creates a new class system. That movie was wrapped in a cheesy story about following your dreams, but it at least didn’t dumb down its internal thoughts. This is a recurring problem for Niccol whose interesting ideas are often tied up in bad movies.
I wanted to see In Time because its premise is intriguing. What are the possibilities of a future where time has replaced money as currency? The substituting of money for time accomplishes two things: it reveals the arbitrariness of currency and the tyranny of capitalism in how it controls the lives of the poor. These are interesting elements for a good movie but nothing much is done with them.
The movie is largely a generic action-chase movie. Will (Timberlake), the time bandit is a poor guy, living on a daily time limit who saves the life of a suicidal rich man (Henry Cavill). The rich man kills himself anyway but gifts his time to Will just before dying. Will decides he will steal time from the rich and flood poor sectors of his city with time, causing the economy to (somehow) implode. He also has an accomplice, a wealthy heiress (Seyfried) that he initially takes hostage but who comes to care for Will and his cause.
The pair are chased by a police detective (Murphy) in action scenes that leave much to be desired. At times these scenes are over the top and ridiculous, including a hyperbolic, badly rendered CGI car crash that no one could survive, and death scenes where people run out of time that are unintentionally funny.
In-between action scenes is the romance between the two leads. These scenes place a lot of emphasis on the coolness of having a romantic partner. You get to hang out and hold hands and everything! I guess In Time is meant for younger audiences and to the average high school student maybe comes across as being a little better than it is.
The performances are all phoned in, including a disappointing turn by Cillian Murphy – one of his generation’s greatest talents. And none of the actors really look the part. Everyone stops aging at 25 but Timberlake is probably the closest to looking the age, Seyfried looks about 16 and Murphy’s youthful looks are beginning to fade.
There’s also an out of place sexual undercurrent running through the movie that often comes across as creepy. When Sylvia – the heiress – recounts when she first started “counting time” it comes across as a combination of the onset of puberty and losing her virginity wrapped into one. There’s Timberlake’s touchy, feely relationship with his mom (Olivia Wilde), who, when the same age as her son, seems unsettlingly incestuous. And there’s the peculiar extended establishing scene inside a bank where a teller is letting a woman know she’s overdrawn and then suggesting they come to an “arrangement.”
Overall, In Time is an intriguing failure made by a would-be great filmmaker whose prone to making these kinds of movies.
-The Adjustment Bureau
David Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.