In Time. Film Review


Starring Justin Timberlake, Cillian Murphy and Amanda Seyfried. Written & Directed by Andrew Niccol

20th Century Fox / 109 mins runtime

Reviewed by Catherine Mann

In a future where humans stop aging at 25, and time is used as currency, your life is literally shortened or lengthened according to your wealth. The rich can have thousands or even millions of years stored up, making them effectively immortal (as long as they don’t die accidentally), whereas the poor must survive day to day and regularly run out of time. Will Salas saves a rich man who is slumming it in theDaytonghetto, and is rewarded with a century and a disturbing look at the true nature of his world. With his new found wealth Will heads to New Greenwich, home of the super rich and nearly immortal. There he meets dissatisfied, suffocated rich girl Sylvia Weis and together they take on the injustices of the system.

One of the most successful parts of In Time was the world-building. The contrast between the rich and the poor are pronounced and wonderfully convey the central concept. It’s clear that the visuals were very carefully thought through, and the nuances in costume and set design are excellent. The poor are quick and colourful, theirs is a world full of danger, but also excitement and pleasure and visual interest. TheDayton ghetto is run down and shabby, but there’s always something to look at. By contrast the luxury of New Greenwich is very staid and reserved and sombre. Everything is slow and careful and luxurious, the people here have (almost) all the time in the world. Their surroundings are finely crafted, built to last, but lack embellishment. On Will’s first visit there he sticks out like a sore thumb, as a waitress points out he does everything too quickly to be a local. The ultra-modern, efficient precinct of the timekeepers provides yet another, briefly-glimpsed contrast. It is there, almost behind-the-scenes, that order reigns and the system is kept working for both the demure rich and the vibrant poor.

The film has plenty of good performances, but the characters work with varying levels of success. There are only young actors in this film – which must have been very attractive to studio bosses – and you can tell a particularly good performance by the ability of the actor to convey great age despite their physical youth. Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried play the leads and don’t have to worry about conveying age as their characters are as young as they look. We are meant to like Will Salas, and see things from his viewpoint, but he’s so similar to other action film leads that I didn’t feel much affection for him. Will is straightforward, brave and noble, but not very smart. His motivations are incredibly generic; he loves his mum (and given what kind of film this is, that’s bad news for her), and has a dead father he never really knew but looks up to all the same. He is told a secret – albeit a blindingly obvious one – about how the world works and he sets out to take on the rich, without any kind of plan. Then again given the world he lives in it makes sense that Will isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s literally not had the time to stop and think about the world and his place in it, and he’s never had to think long-term. Will is a character who perfectly fits the film; he’s well-intentioned and dynamic, but not as intelligent as he should be.

Sylvia Weis is a great example of the kind of role female characters should have in films, though sadly she’s not particularly engaging as a person. It’s nice to see a leading lady whose actions and motivations drive the plot along as much as those of her male counterpart. Will never has to rescue Sylvia, she makes decisions for herself, and quickly learns to live a completely new life. Though I think it would make a little more sense if she’d learned that five inch heels are not the best footwear for running. Niggles aside, Sylvia quickly becomes Will’s equal in both their relationship and the film, and it’s easy to understand why she does what she does. In many ways she’s much braver than him, because she gives up so much more than he does. It’s a shame I didn’t feel more fondness for her, but then again I felt roughly the same about Will, so I suppose that’s fair too.

The supporting cast turned in some fine performances. Cillian Murphy, as committed as ever, plays Raymond Leon a very determined and incorruptible cop. Initially portrayed as a villain, he is one of the few characters who’s shown in a morally ambiguous light. He represents the forces of order, upholding and protecting the system flawed though it may be. The other standout performance was fresh-faced actor Vincent Kartheiser who plays the super rich Phillipe Weis. He managed to perform with all the gravitas, pomp and arrogance of a very old, very rich businessman. I enjoyed his performance, even though he was lumbered with some of the most awkward lines of exposition in the entire film. Phillipe Weis is a fat cat who lives off the suffering of others. He is the embodiment of the system, but he is also a human being and the actor did what he could to express this, despite the limitations of the part he was given.

I’ve mentioned the setting and character, but what I haven’t mentioned is the most important part of this film, the plot. You can tell fairly early on that the plot is the main consideration because it railroads everything else. Characters regularly do very stupid things, because the plot demands it. The premise, which is carefully introduced using a voiceover then beautifully expressed through the visuals, is warped and stretched so that the next event in the story can happen. In Time advertises itself as a high-concept film, and it probably would be if it weren’t much more concerned with being an exciting action film. It just about works whilst you are watching, but when you think about it for a moment it’s nonsensical and various plot points are indicative of lazy plotting. When Will travels from the ghetto he must stop and pay tolls of weeks, months, and years at a series of carefully controlled checkpoints that provide access to zones with greater wealth. Yet when driving out of New Greenwich with a hostage he is back in the ghetto without single problem. The crime spree that is the focus of the second half of the film just seems to happen without planning or difficulty, leaving you wondering why everyone doesn’t take up bank robbing.

Writer and Director Andrew Niccol also wrote and directed the excellent high-concept film Gattaca. There are a variety of superficial similarities between the two films; both set in a strict class-based future world, a man born into disadvantage gets the opportunity to enter the world of his social superiors and challenge the injustice of the system. However that’s really where the similarities end. Gattaca stuck firmly to its premise and the suspense and action flowed from the central character’s motivation. Whereas In Time is a high-concept idea that has been warped to fit a Hollywood action plotline. One of the biggest disappointments is that so much could have been done with a premise that ties currency directly to mortality. It’s an idea that’s ripe for exploration in the current climate of financial crises. In Time does little to explore the complex moral and social issues raised by the premise and instead gives us a fast paced, action film. The action and suspense work very well, but it really feels like a missed opportunity that the film didn’t aspire to anything meaningful.