Sometime in the future, people are genetically engineered stop aging at 25 and must find ways to buy themselves more time. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives day to day as he tries to buy time for his mum (Olivia Wilde) as well as himself. When Henry (Tim Bomer) a stranger who has lived as long as he wants donates his time to Will, he becomes a murder suspect for Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy). With time the most valuable currency, Will plays poker and his windfall gives him access to the world of the wealthy in New Greenwich, where super-rich Philip Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) has amassed a fortune - in years to live. But his underrated, over-protected daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) becomes Will's ally as they try to right the wrongs of her father and save their own lives.
Review by Louise Keller:
Like an undulating pendulum, my reactions swayed through the first half of this sci-fi thriller in which time is a commodity, until it came to a slow halt. It's an interesting big scale concept in the vein of Gattaca, which director Andrew Niccol wrote, back in 1997, but not nearly as good or credible. The quest for immortality, greed and the division of the classes by its social structure are some of the themes that Niccol addresses, but much of the film's appeal is lost with an overly complicated premise and unexplained concepts, throwing doubt on its credentials. There are flashes of potential brilliance and Justin Timberlake and doe-eyed Amanda Seyfriend make an attractive couple, despite lemon-zest chemistry between them.
The film starts with promise as we are thrown into an intriguing reality in which everyone stops ageing at the age of 25. That's when the extra year kicks in and survival becomes tenuous as the costs of living are deducted from the 15 digits of the embedded wrist body clock. Like a time bomb, as the digits tick down to zero, life ends - with a violent shudder, as if stabbed by an invisible dagger.
This basic premise brings a crisp visual impact with Justin Timberlake's idealistic protagonist Will Salas looking the same age as his mother (Olivia Wilde). They live in a ghetto-like district in a world divided by time zones, according to wealth. Money buys immortality and greed is good in Niccol's world. Will only knows how to survive on a day by day basis, with never enough time for anything. It costs one minute to make a phone call, four minutes to buy a cup of coffee and two months to rent a room for the night in a swish hotel in New Greenwich, the richest zone, where the elite exist in a luxury cocoon.
The story begins in earnest when Will is given a huge gift of time by Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), a stranger in the ghetto, who he befriends. That's his passport to New Greenwich, where it seems Will is trying to figure out the meaning of life as he shakes the establishment. There's an amusing moment when wealthy business tycoon Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) introduces him to Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), by whom he is clearly smitten, well aware that Will cannot know whether she is his wife or daughter. Unsurprisingly, Sylvia is the rebellious daughter as well as Will's love interest; together they play a curious mix of Bonnie and Clyde on the run coupled with a type of Robin Hood, exacting time from the rich and giving it to the poor. ('Time is money' has never had more relevance.)
Timberlake is a good talent and his buzz cut gives him the required look of desperation as the young man intent to make a difference. Seyfried, with the Anna Wintour bob and a Vogue wardrobe to match, teeters throughout on platform ultra-high black stilettos which only come off a couple of times - playing strip poker on the bed and as she dares to be reckless, taking a midnight dip with Will. The swim scene (in which Will and Sylvia's wrist body clock glow like glow-worms in the dark water) comes directly after an elegant soiree at the grand casino in New Greenwich, replete with dramatic staircases and crystal chandeliers.
There are many frustrations including the all-important wrist body clock which miraculously adds and subtracts time from silver bracelets or by simple transfers on touch. There is little differentiation between giving someone time as opposed to taking it by force or stealing it, which leaves us having to fill in the dots for ourselves. I did like Cillian Murphy though, who plays the relentless time keeper, hot on Will's trail.
Some of the dialogue is a bit ho-hum and surprisingly there is little tension, despite car chases, action scenes and poker games where the stakes are as high as they come. I felt strangely uninvolved and disappointed in what should have been a scorcher of a sci-fi thriller.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Digital time displays on the inside of everyone's left arm (15 digits long) is the coolest effect in this sci-fi action thriller from Andrew Niccol of The Truman Show fame. The seconds count down so you can literally see your life ticking away silently. In Niccol's vision of this time-driven world, when the counter gets to zero, you shudder to sudden death. That's a great incentive to try and buy time. Or steal it.
It certainly makes you appreciate time, graphically underlining the value of our remaining seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc.
The upside of this new world is that humans are genetically engineered to stop ageing at 25. After your 25th birthday, you have one year left before you expire. Unless you can supplement your remaining time - any way you can. That's the one-note premise of the film.
There is no reason given, nor does Niccol explain when and why this cataclysmic change in human affairs was introduced, nor by what authority. Indeed, there is something of a power vacuum in society, the only figure of authority being Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Murphy), who leads a small team of henchmen in pursuit of wrongdoers. We meet only one of these, our hero Will Salas (Timberlake), who has the audacity to challenge the system, which is corrupt and favours the rich.
Ah, you say, this is where In Time takes on the mantle of meaningful socio-political commentary, fulfilling the requirements of the best in science fiction. But it doesn't.
This notion is just one of a list of elements put together like a recipe for making thriller pie with sci-fi stuffing. The inbuilt race against the clock, the notion that time is money and the human desire for immortality are blended together in what turns out to be a clumsy attempt to give the simple concept some semblance of meaning.
We search for clues in the settings: the cars are big, wide, matt black and nasty looking. The exterior action scenes often take place in deserted industrial wastelands and the digital gizmos that read, add or delete time from individuals are in stark contrast to their surroundings.
The wealthy in New Greenwich are also living in stark contrast to what's referred to the rest of the place as 'the ghetto'. But there is no emotional investment we can make in this story, and the stakes are too vague to make us sweat.
Our hero is bombarded with obstacles and tragedies, and he is given some sort of a Robin Hood mission, but this is muddied by a script lacking clarity. Timberlake is good, hair close shaven and eyes gazing straight ahead. He doesn't have that X factor that makes action stars, though. Seyfried does her best, although she is not as well suited to playing the back up girl in thrillers as she is to romantic comedies or drama. Nor do they make movie chemistry together.
Best of all is Murphy as Leon the time cop, cool, tough, always interesting to watch on screen, with things going on beneath and behind his lines.
Leon is the one who sprinkles doubt into the mix when he alludes to Will's father's death in a mysterious fashion - but we never discover what that is.
There is little internal cohesion to this world; bits of editorial plaster float past bearing the thematic imprints of 'social injustice' or 'greedy rich' but while there are questions raised most are left unanswered.
There is no logic, not even on its own set of rules, as to how people exchange the valuable yet intangible bits of time for solid goods, like food, drink, shelter. Everything is paid in minutes or hours, days or months, so who gets the time when you pay a road toll?
These sorts of unresolved issues suggest that the filmmakers were in a rush and the screenplay was left underdeveloped. Ironically, they seem to have run out of time.
First published in the Sun-Herald
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IN TIME (M)
CAST: Justin Timberlake, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Johnny Galecki, Alex Pettyfer, Matt Borner, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Vincent Kartheiser, Bella Heathcote
PRODUCER: Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Andrew Niccol
DIRECTOR: Andrew Niccol
SCRIPT: Andrew Niccol
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
EDITOR: Zach Staenberg
MUSIC: Craig Armstrong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alex McDowell
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 27, 2011