So, what is your time worth? This new sci-fi thriller comes from New Zealand born filmmaker Andrew Niccol, who wrote The Truman Show and directed Gattaca and Lord Of War. It is set in the near future, where everyone is genetically programmed to stop aging at 25, rather like Logan’s Run revisited, which adds a neat twist to the “race against time” thriller device. After your 25th birthday, you have one year left before you die, unless you can supplement your remaining life span. In this brave new world, time is a currency where wages are paid in time, a bus ride will cost you two hours of your life, paying your bills will literally take years off your life, buying a luxury car will cost half a century, and so on. You can also give time or take time from another person.
Everyone is constantly reminded of how much time they have left as they can watch their time tick away through the fluorescent green numbers emblazoned on their left arm. People can add more time to their life expectancy through buying time. But in this dystopian world, there are the haves, who can virtually live forever, and the have-nots, who live from day to day and struggle to get enough time to get by. In the ghetto ruthless gangsters prey on the vulnerable, killing people for their time, time can be loaned out at usurious interest rates. There is also the wealthy enclave of new Greenwich, where the rich and powerful accumulate hundreds of years of time, and live a hedonistic lifestyle.
The world that Niccol has created is not too unfamiliar, and the retro-futuristic production design enables audiences to absorb the details fairly quickly. Many of the elements of their everyday life – the cars, costumes, houses, etc – are familiar. This world has its own internal logic, and if you can accept the central premise then In Time does have a certain fascination. However, the workings behind much of the central plot device is never satisfactorily explained to the audience, thus raising many questions. Will Salas (played by Justin Timberlake) is a working class stiff from the ghetto, who challenges the system. Will is gifted 100 years by Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), who subsequently commits suicide. Will finds himself being hunted by Raymond Leon (a steely eyed and cold Cillian Murphy), a time keeper, a kind of futuristic policeman who tries to regulate abuses of time and to prevent people stealing time. Will hooks up with Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), the rebellious daughter of Phillip Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), a powerful business tycoon who has amassed thousands of years. The pair becomes a sort of futuristic Bonnie and Clyde, robbing time banks and dispensing time amongst the poor, but there is a lack of palpable chemistry between the two.
Watching In Time is a little disconcerting, as the film is populated by a cast of people that don’t look much older than mid-20’s. This is especially true of Timberlake’s mother, who is played by Olivia Wilde who is, in reality, only a couple of years younger. Following solid turns in both The Social Network and Friends With Benefits, Timberlake acquits himself well as the action hero here, and his buzz cut adds an air of desperation to his character. Seyfried adds a touch of class to her underwritten role, but her character spends a lot of time running around in impossibly tall high heels. Alex Pettyfer plays Fortis, the vicious head of a band of gangsters known as the Minutemen, who steal time from the rich and the poor alike.
In Time is a futuristic thriller, but it can also be taken as a sort of timely allegory of the corporate greed and corruption prevalent in our consumer driven society. However, the central premise is let down by some gaps in logic and the inconsistent time frames within the story, and the central narrative itself is cliched. The film has the classic structure of a regular thriller, with car chases, shootings, and tension-filled showdowns with various villains.
Although driven by an interesting idea, In Time is not a great sci-fi film. While it is far less convincing than Gattaca, it is not a complete waste of time, either.