Andrew Niccol’s debut feature as writer/director was 1997’s clinical, Huxley-esque Gattaca, which he then immediately followed with scribe duties on the rightly revered The Truman Show. These two sleeper-classics, as well as story work on The Terminal and a further writer/director credit on underrated Nicolas Cage vehicle Lord Of War, mark Niccol out as one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today. In Time, Niccol’s latest project as both writer and director, ostensibly sees him return to an area closer to that of Gattaca. Another examination of human nature when faced with the inexorable march of scientific progress, In Time eschews many of that former film’s more stoic elements, instead aiming for a more scattergun, blockbuster approach. Niccol presents a future where time, not money, is currency. The populace is genetically engineered to stop ageing at 25, however once the quarter-century is reached, the bioluminescent display in the arm of every person begins counting down from 1 year to zero, upon which there is a brief, painful seizure, followed by death. Further time can be earned to extend this year, and as such – in theory – people can live forever, preserved at the tight-skinned physical exuberance of their 25-year old selves. However, with an economy based on micro-transactions of time (a bus ride costs three minutes, for example), a class system split into Time Zones has developed, meaning the working classes live with only hours left on the clock, toiling to extend their lives on a day-to-day basis, while the rich wallow luxuriously with their accrued centuries slowly trickling away. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, 30) lives in the ghetto and works to provide time for himself and his mother – a task made more difficult by the regime’s constant implementation of artificially accelerated inflation, and the actions of local gangsters The Minutemen, who have no qualms in reliving their victims of their last remaining seconds. Salas encounters Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer, 34) in a bar buying rounds of drinks and, through his temporal profligacy, drawing lots of attention to himself. Hamilton is a time-wealthy centarian, with a further century still remaining on his clock. The Minutemen have taken an interest in him, and Salas’ intervention in their efforts to relieve him of his spare time has put him too on their radar.
The mentally weary Hamilton has had enough of living, and longs for the solace of death. As thanks for his assistance, he donates his century to an unwitting, sleeping Salas, deeming him worthy of the gift due to his honourable and selfless conduct.
Yet the powers that be have ways of detecting an undue influx of time into an intentionally destitute time zone. Government agency The Timekeepers maintain the order of things, and quickly realise Salas possesses time he has no birthright to. Their leader, Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy, 35) takes a personal interest in apprehending Salas, who has had the temerity to cross several time zones into the uber-wealthy district of New Greenwich, where only those in the upper echelons, over-encumbered with excess time, can afford to be.
Through a penchant for high-stakes gambling Salas ingratiates himself with super-rich tycoon Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser – Angel’s Connor and Mad Men’s Pete Campbell, 32) and, more importantly, his glamourous daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried, 25).
What develops between Timberlake and Seyfried is a fairly standard and frequently cheese-laden romance, as the girl born with the silver spoon sees what it’s like on the other side of the fence: the epiphany that, in her comfortable bubble, she hasn’t actually lived a day in her life.
Yet the films never flattens out into the po-faced romance it initially threatens to be, actually becoming a rather conventional and frequently enjoyable chase movie, as Salas and Seyfried flee their various pursuers while fighting the good egalitarian fight in the name of the people.In Time has nothing approaching the depth of the cerebral Gattaca, and seems perfectly happy in its own silly skin. Murphy’s Timekeepers, for example, drive absurd electric versions of seventies musclecars, and strut authoritatively in long leather coats that make The Matrix seem positively psychedelic, while leader of the Minutemen Alex Pettyfer is almost Rickmanian in his pantomimic foulness.
There’s a daft car chase, some shootouts, an assortment of cardboard baddies, which are all perfectly serviceable, in a pleasant, vacantly entertaining kind of way. There are also plot holes the size of oil rigs, but in the context of the film itself they never detract too much. Tonally, In Time is actually closer to The Island than Gattaca, however superior (in every conceivable way) to Michael Bay’s film it may be.
The film doesn’t rest too much on its central conceit of time as an exchangeable concept, never delving into precisely how this peculiar global arrangement came to pass, besides a throwaway epilogue voiceover referring to ‘genetic engineering.’ Never finding itself entrenched in syrupy pseudo-science allows it to have fun with its premise, peppering proceedings with asides about the physical similarities between generations, and in the fear that comes from an immortality that doesn’t protect from accident, disease or attack.
The casting of Timberlake, however, is perhaps one of the film’s missteps. This isn’t a shot at him – there is no doubt he can act and, on the whole, he is perfectly fine throughout. His portrayal of a rough-and-ready street chancer never rings completely true, however; a nagging fallacy not helped by occasionally clunksome, trite dialogue which either cheapens the film with melodrama or gives Timberlake an unwelcome Paul Walker-lite air. In one scene, where he is simply allowed to flex a more emotional range, he is excellent, yet for most of the film he’s Justin Timberlake, only holding a gun or driving a car.
Cillian Murphy does, however, play the sinister, single-minded persistence of Leon perfectly, and could probably do so in his sleep, while Seyfried has little to do but does it well enough.
It is Kartheiser who seems to be having the most fun at the aristocratic Weis, relishing in the icy exterior disguising the internal decay of an old man gradually losing his grip on what he believes is rightfully his.
And while the film is far from perfect, it contains within it enough ideas and action to make it a perfectly passable piece of popcorn entertainment. Don’t expect Oscar nods (and, crucially, don’t expect Gattaca), and what you’ll find is a solid and exciting – if a little silly – piece of sci-fi blockbuster entertainment.
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