Justin Timberlake, action hero? He’s not quite there yet, but Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi thriller In Time is another stepping stone (following The Social Network) on the road for the former ‘NSync member to prove himself as a legit movie star. Along with Friends with Benefits, this is surprisingly solid genre filmmaking.
In Time may not be entirely convincing as science fiction, but it’s at least half-intelligent; it gets you thinking. And it couldn’t come at a better time: the events that unfold in this not-too-distant future nicely parallel the current Occupy Wall Street movement in the US: for a few to live forever, most of us have to die.
In In Time’s almost retro vision of future society (there are no cell phones, and personal computer technology seems to be almost nonexistent), time is money. Literally. Citizens live normally up to the age of 25, and then the clock starts ticking: they have another year to live, indicated by a glowing countdown timer on their wrist, before their time is up and they suddenly seize up and die, whether they’re lying in bed or walking down the street or driving a busload of schoolchildren down the highway.
But the 25th year can be extended. Time is the de facto commodity, with hours and minutes replacing dollars and cents: workers buy coffee for a few minutes, and get paid in hours and days at the end of the week. Time can be transferred from one person to another, and is frequently stolen: in the future, arm wrestling is a deadly sport where one combatant quickly drains away the remaining days the other has to live. Now that might have made Over the Top more tolerable.
Cue the endless puns. Beggars ask “do you have a minute?” Prostitutes offer 10 minutes in exchange for an hour. “Don’t waste my time.” “I don’t have time…” And so forth.
There’s a story in here, too. Will Salas (Timberlake) lives in a ghetto of downtown L.A., along with his mother (Olivia Wilde), who is turning 25 for the 25th time. A chance encounter with a man (Matt Bomer) who has lived long enough nets Will a cool hundred years, which he uses to get into ritzier time zones, betting his life (yeah, literally) in high-stakes poker games.
Soon, he runs off with the daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of an extremely wealthy/immortal businessman (Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser), convincing the rich girl that society shouldn’t operate this way, and that they can do something about it. On their trail are the “timekeepers”, futuristic police led by Cillian Murphy, and the “minutemen”, time-stealing thugs represented by Alex Pettyfer, as the film devolves into a Bonnie & Clyde/Robin Hood mashup.
In Time is, ultimately, pretty silly stuff. I could never really accept this future society: the setting feels too contemporary, the economics are fuzzy, time is too damn easy to steal, and characters are never prepared for death. If you have minutes to live, do you calmly go about your business, or do everything you can to get some extra hours out of the guy next to you?
The characters never plan ahead, either, resulting in one (or five) too many scenes where they have minutes left to live, always racing against the clock for survival (even minutes after charitably handing away a million hours, they’re own timers are down to hours). You might think it would be wise to plan ahead, a few days or weeks, at least. But no: even the cop trailing them waits until he has seconds to live before refilling his timer.
Despite this, I found myself blithely entertained: the premise is irresistible, fun and thought-provoking and, with the class struggle theme, timely and relevant all at the same time. And it doesn’t seem to be taking itself too seriously. Director Niccol has made better (Gattaca) and worse (S1mOne) science fiction; this one falls somewhere in-between.