“For a few to be immortal, many must die.”
In Time is another tale in producer/writer/director Andrew Niccol‘s string of high concept but low key sci-fi films(Gattaca, The Truman Show). His films have not failed to do some interesting things in the past, and In Time appears to have a similar feel to it. The movie has a cool concept as well as young star studded cast made up of Justin Timberlake,Amanda Seyfried, and Cillian Murphy. The concept is essentially a world in which time is the currency and starting at age 20 everybody has one year to spend, sell, invest, gamble ect. With a director who has proven himself, a talented young cast, and a concept that seems intriguing in the least, can In Time make an impact that will last?
In Time begins by laying down the laws of this unique universe the film is taking place in. It’s a universe where time has quite literally become money as it is the universal currency for everything. People now stop aging at 25 years old and live until their watch hits zero. Every person has a watch located on their forearm that has the remaining balance of time until that person’s time runs out and they die. The world is broken up into several districts(called time zones) that essentially exist to break up the social classes with the poor living in the lowest numbered time zone referred to simply as the ghetto and the wealthy living in the higher numbered time zones referred to as New Greenwich. The movie starts in the ghetto following the character Will Salas(Timberlake) who lives with his mother(Olivia Wilde) with their time a day or less nearly every day. Will works in a factory job that gives him and his mother just enough time to scrape by. Eventually there is an accident in which Will’s mother cannot pay a bus fee due to prices that were raised and unfortunately cannot make it to Will fast enough to get some time before her watch hits zero. She passes away and Will becomes very upset at the system that allows his mother to pass in such a way. One night when Will is at a bar he sees that a wealthy man named Henry Hamilton( stumbles in and begins drinking and flaunting his time around. A group of ghetto mobsters come in and try to mug this man for his time, but Will helps Hamilton get away. Will and Hamilton end up hiding from these men in a warehouse. While they are there, a conversation is exchanged between the two and it is revealed that Hamilton wants to die and is sick of living. He offers Will his time, but Will refuses claiming that he didn’t earn it. In the night Hamilton transfers all of his time to Will anyway and then dies the next morning. Will is a bit upset, but eventually decides to leave the ghetto and goes to New Greenwich to see what the wealthy live like. After the death of Hamilton, the “timekeepers”(who are like the law enforcement) show up to investigate his death. Timekeeper Raymond Leon(Murphy) theorizes that Hamilton was murdered. He decides to launch an investigation and his first lead is Will. Will decides to try and take on the system in place by gathering time from all of the banks together and redistrubting it to people among all of the different time zones. The movie entually becomes a game of cat and mouse between Will, his partner Sylvia(Seyfried) he picks up in New Greenwich, and Timekeeper Leon.
The premise of the film is certainly interesting and ambitious. The movie could have taken this concept of time as money and taken it in several different directions. The film decides to take the film in the futuristic Robin Hood direction which is certainly an interesting choice, but probably not the direction that could make the best use of the concept. Sure this take on the concept leaves for plenty of political undertones about the redistribution of wealth, but shouldn’t there be another direction the story could have taken that could have been edgier and less preachy? The movie certainly doesn’t get overly preachy by any means, but at this point in the world economy this is a topic that has been covered(better) many many times in other films. Aside from the misdirection the story flat out has some severe pacing problems. As I’ve already stated numerous times, this is a rich world with a great concept, and such a world should have quite a bit of time to develop. The movie explains the setting in about 5 minutes and then various details are spread out throughout the rest of the film. This story in this world should have been a trilogy. In Time tries to shove far too much into its short 109 minute runtime. This lack of time(no pun intended) damages the entire movie by taking away from the development of the plot, world, and worst of all the characters. Because all of this is shoved into a short runtime, the pacing is flat out atrocious. The movie starts semi-slow and then picks up significantly only to slow back down for no apparent reason just so the last 20 minutes of the film could sprint through the end of the story. There is so much potential greatness that is simply glossed over throughout the film, and its very sad to watch. I really do feel as if writer/director/producer Andrew Niccol pitched this movie as either a 3 hour movie or a multiple movie deal and the studio said “sure! If you cut this,this,this, and this. Oh and you need to make the movie short so that we can fit more showings in a day so we can have bigger receipts”. Studio intervention is written all over this potentially great, but unfortunately less than mediocre film. Buried within the film In Times lies some really cool and even innovative ideas that should have been utilized, but sadly the film glosses over them and the film severely suffers for it.
In Time actually sports a pretty solid young cast with Timberlake and Seyfried both turning in servicable performances. The real problem isn’t the actors, but is the writing and the script. As I already covered pretty thoroughly in the critique of the story, this script tries to cover entirely too much in its short run time. The way the characters are written and the way they develop is hugely impacted in a less than thrilling way by this pretty major problem. We may get to see a bit of Will Salas before he leaves district 12 on his mission for revenge, but hardly enough to really build a connection with he character. Sylvia’s character motivation for wanting to go with Salas certainly seemed viable, but the movie pretty much sums up her discontent into a single line of dialog. This problem spreads to other characters such as Time Keeper Leon who also seems very driven and bitter about the system, but the movie really never stops to take the time to show or fully explain why. I’ll say it again. This movie should have been a trilogy with the amount of ideas and content that was shoved into it because the character are reduced to such 2-dimensional versions of who they seem like they want to be. This movie wastes this film’s talented young cast by not giving any of the characters time to really develop beyond their initial introduction.
This movie had such potential to be something special and unfortunately the whole film just takes the a weak direction and then takes that direction and fails to make it work. While I certainly suspect that studio intervention had a hand in the many problems of this film, I can’t help but turn to writer/director/producer Andrew Niccol and wonder how he could have let this movie become such a mess. The movie certainly seemed to have a great vision from the get go, but the vision appears to have become muddled and lost in an overly compressed script, a misstep in direction, and some overall weak writing. I know that Niccol was certainly at the heart of this project and I know the film really did mean to do well, but Niccol really let this film get away from him. I know its easy to really tear this movie apart, but Niccol did do some things really well. The movie looks well shot and manages to handle its action set pieces better than expected. The cinematography is solid, but nothing great either. Niccol certainly isn’t at the top of his game in In Time, but his base concept still holds for plenty of cool possibilities in a world very similar to the one of In Time.
Overall In Time has a great concept and a strong cast, but ultimately the weak and overly compressed script along with a poor choice of direction in the story just flat out keep this movie from being anything better than below average. The movie is filled with plenty of great possibilities, but ultimately none of them pay off.
The story for this film had some of the most exciting ideas I’ve heard of in a sci-fi movie in a while, but unfortunately the story of the film never lives up to any of them because of the amount of content shoved into this already too short movie. The really cool ideas and concept can only carry this film so far, and even though the story does manage to entertain from time to time, it is ultimately ruined by pacing issues and a lack of time.
The young cast actually does a serviceable job with Timberlake, Seyfried, and Murphy filling the biggest roles. Unfortunately these great actors are wasted on roles that have very little to explore in terms of actual character. While Will Salas does get the opening scenes to develop his character, the supporting characters hardly get anything in the way of motivation or depth. Due to a seemingly condensed script, the characters are watered down to almost nothing.
Writer/Director/Producer Andrew Niccol has already proven multiple times that he understands what makes a great science-fiction movie. This movie seems to be two steps back for him as this movie struggles with some really basic fundamentals of story telling. While I suspect there was some studio intervention, I still have to hold Niccol responsible for the failure of this movie. While the movie does have a really neat look to it, the actual building blocks of the film are a mess. Niccol does succeed in delivering a cool concept and some pretty looking visuals, but his direction ultimately fails to take this movie to its full potential.
Overall Effectiveness of the Movie: 3
In Time makes no bones about what its political undertones about social classes are which is why this movie does succeed to some degree. Aside from this, the movie fails to do anything really special. The script was a mess, the characters watered down, and the story incredibly hollow and uneven. This movie may have had a cool concept, but in the realm of science fiction film making, it takes far more than a cool concept and some political undertones to keep a movie afloat.
Overall Score: 4