Friday, October 28, 2011

Ain't No Time? Baby, Bye, Bye, Bye: IN TIME


With In Time, writer-director Andrew Niccol, who once wrote The Truman Show as well as created the near-future gene-swap thriller Gattaca and the holographic actress comedy Simone, creates a world in which time is literally money. Science has made it possible to live forever, but obviously this would create an unsustainable population growth if everyone were allowed access to the miracle technology. To get around this, there is some kind of vaguely worldwide crypto-fascistic capitalist system (I can only assume, since the movie doesn’t help out much when it comes to comprehension) by which many are allowed to die so others can live forever young.

In this world, people live with free time until their twenty-fifth birthday, after which they stop aging, but a glowing green countdown clock on their forearm jolts to life. They have one free year. Any time after that must be earned. In this futuristic nightmare, time has become currency, traded, stolen, bought, and earned. Niccol has precisely one good use for a world like this, to create a striking metaphor for income inequality. After this has been acknowledged often, redundantly, and gravely, he and his characters have no idea what to do with this revelation. The film digs so quickly and carelessly into the concept that loose bits of narrative avalanche back down into the plot holes, blocking believability from escaping.

The story centers on Will (Justin Timberlake, who really should think about singing again), a factory worker in the ghetto living day to day with just enough minutes to his name to get him to next payday. He rescues a rich man (Matt Bomer) from a bar fight with a thug (Alex Pettyfer) who wanted to steal his century of life. The rich guy is over a hundred years old and wants to end it all. While Will sleeps, the wealthy man gives him his century and dies, or “times out” in the parlance of this picture. This is suspicious to the government, who sends a timekeeper (the always awesome Cillian Murphy) to investigate. He decides it’s a murder after having only seen surveillance footage of Will fleeing the scene, circumstantial evidence at best.

Will doesn’t know this, though. He thinks he can move his mom (Olivia Wilde) into a nice new home. What he doesn’t know is that his mom is about to time out when she can’t afford to pay for bus fare and consequently dies on her lonely walk, unable to find someone to spare a minute. Enraged, Will sets off across the time zones (I couldn’t say what these are, but they appear to be neighborhoods separated by toll booths to keep people of differing life expectancies from mingling) to stick it to the richest in their society. There, he almost immediately runs into a wealthy, nefarious banker (Mad Men’s supremely conniving Vincent Kartheiser) and his beautiful daughter (Amanda Seyfried).

That’s where the law catches up to Will. He beats up some cops and takes the banker’s daughter with him as he races away. (You see, she’s kidnapped, or maybe she loves him, or maybe both.) So, the movie settles into its true nature as a chase movie. Timberlake and Seyfried flee to the ghetto where they agree to become some kind of hot futuristic leather-clad time thieves, pulling off daring Robin Hood heists (we only see two fairly uncomplicated ones) to give time to those who need it most while trying to stay one step ahead of the timekeepers, and her father. There’s lots of movement in this movie but no momentum. It’s a curiously inert film for one that has people on the run bearing literal countdown clocks that illuminate every scene. I was constantly trying to remember how much time our characters are carrying with them (it seems the lower they get on time, the faster they can run to try and get more), even as I was waiting around for anything to take my mind away from trying to figure out how this world works.

One minor character laments her husband dying with “9 years on his clock.” In this world, is there no way one can leave inheritance in case you die before your time? We see countless banks with vaults full of time. Why would you bank your time? If you run out before you can get back to the bank, there’d be no way to revive you since, as we clearly see, dead people can’t receive any new time payments. After a while, I stopped contemplating questions like these and instead focused on how nice it is that the concept offers relatively young actors a chance to play roles they otherwise couldn’t have for decades. Murphy (35) is playing a grizzled veteran cop with over fifty years on the job. Kartheiser (32) is playing an elderly robber baron. Wilde (27) is playing a mother celebrating her 50th birthday as the film opens. Now, the film doesn’t do much with the discrepancies between the ages of the actors and the characters beyond the initial cheap visual gag, but at least it’s proof the concept could have worked if it either 1.) made more sense and/or 2.) were more exciting.

In Time is a difficult film to write about because it’s a difficult film to care about. It’s a straight-up-the-middle, two star mediocrity and more or less a bore. It’s a movie in which no aspect in particular goes terribly wrong. It’s more a matter of no aspect in particular going especially right. Not even the great cinematographer Roger Deakins could help things along. It’s a high concept picture (a concept that, in theory, I absolutely loved) that never gets nearly as good, or as entertaining, as it should be.

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