In Time (2011, Dir. Andrew Niccol)
In the future, human beings are genetically modified with a life clock that starts when you reach the age of 25, from then on you are given one more year of life and to continue living you need to “earn time”. The reality of this situation is that those living in the poorest districts barely have enough hours in the day to earn their living due to constant increases in the cost of living, whilst the rich live eternally young for centuries.
When poverty-stricken Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) saves the life of a rich man with more than a 100 years on his clock, he gives it to Will before choosing to end his life. Newly wealthy, Will tries to save those around him, including his mother, but only ends up causing more pain. Eventually, hunted by Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), he takes rich girl Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) hostage. At first the two don’t get along, but eventually they fall in love and hatch a plan to steal as much time as they can and redistribute it to the poor.
Some movies are so much better than you expect them to be, that you are genuinely surprised. Such is the case with In Time, which shares a certain amount of it’s themes (the desire to remain young, a lifespan and status dictated by time) with our previous underrated Sci-Fi film: Logan’s Run. To be fair, the fact that it was directed by Andrew Niccol, whose previous films Gattaca and Lord Of War, I’d been extremely impressed with, both in terms of their stories and visual style, should have clued me into this being a better than average piece of Sci-Fi. What had put me off initially (and I’m sure I’m not alone here) was the presence of Justin Timberlake in the lead role.
As singers-turned-actors go, Timberlake is one of the more acceptable ones. Setting aside, his work as a voice actor in animated films like Shrek 3 and Trolls, his most successful screen outing so far, has been as Sean Parker in The Social Network. There, cast against type, his boyish, easy going persona worked really well to compliment the slightly Machiavellian personality of Parker. I’d argue that his performance here, is a good contender for his second best screen role to date. There’s nothing wrong with his performance, but his clean cut image, makes him so much of a “goody-too-shoes” that at times he doesn’t quite have the edge that say, Matt Damon or Ryan Gosling would have had in the role, when they were younger…
It’s important to mention Timberlake’s age, because due to the story’s maguffin that everyone over the age of 25 is essentially living on borrowed time, every single cast member has to look 25 or younger. This leads to some great moments, my personal favorite being when Sylvia’s father introduces her to Will and asks whether he thinks she’s “my wife, my sister or my mother”… It can also seem jarring at first, particularly in the scenes between Will and his mother (Olivia Wilde),who looks younger than him. It’s perhaps these scenes where Timberlake’s performance is weakest but he definitely improves as the story moves forward.
It also helps to have both Cillian Murphy and Amanda Seyfried to play off against. Murphy is never less than interesting in every role he’s played, whilst Seyfried shows there’s far more to her than her roles in the likes of Mamma Mia or Les Miserables would have suggested. She’s incredibly versatile actress, and it’s nice to see her in a more edgy role here. There’s also a nicely dark performance from Alex Pettyfer as gangland boss Fortis.
As you would expect, given Niccol’s previous films, the film’s visual look is very interesting. The cinematography is by Coen Brothers regular, Roger Deakins, who contrary to what one might expect, imbues the film with a nicely naturalistic look offsetting the sci-fi elements of the story and grounding them in reality by using real locations around L.A.
There’s also a typically lush score from composer, Craig Armstrong, that suits the picture well, but with all the best Sci-fi, what really matters is how compelling the story and it’s execution is, and this is ultimately the film’s strong point.
From its relatively simple starting point of time as not only a method of population control but also a unit of currency, Niccol adds layer upon layer of additional complexity. As Will and Sylvia steal from the rich they expose the corrupt nature of the system and also endanger those they try to help.
Ultimately, good Sci-Fi should make you think about big issues: what it means to be human and how much human morality might be altered if life was no longer finite. It’s strength as a genre is to make you look at these themes from another perspective and this film certainly does that. If nothing else, you can certainly spare it two hours of your time.