Written and Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy
Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and strong language
“In Time” begins with one of the more honest voiceovers I’ve heard: our hero tells us he doesn’t have time to explain the science behind the foundation of his world, so he’ll just say how things are. With a premise as impossible as this, it’s far more respectful to your audience to simply gloss over the science rather than trying to explain it.
That premise is this: everyone stops aging at 25 and the stopwatch genetically engineered into their left arm begins counting down. Everyone starts with a year, and you earn more time by working, or gambling, or lining up at the mission for a handout. You spend time to buy things. If you go broke, your heart stops. As long as you have time, you’re alive — some of the upper class have been alive for over a hundred years.
Our protagonist, Will (Justin Timberlake) lives with his mother (Olivia Wilde) in one of the poorest time zones. They live day-to-day, literally, rarely having more than 36 hours between them. Wages go down while the cost of living goes up, and people are timing out all around him. When Will saves a suicidal rich man from some thieves, he winds up with over a century — but not in time to save his mother. Now rich enough to get into the most exclusive time zone, Will decides it’s time to make the ones who run the system pay.
This is a timely film — the protests against Wall Street weren’t happening when it was shot, but “In Time” is a science fiction version of the same principles (to the point that the revelatory speech by the suicidal rich fellow has all the subtlety of a baseball bat to the skull). Will winds up teaming up with poor-little-rich-girl Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) and working to take down the system while running from the relentless Timekeepers, led by Raymond (Cillian Murphy).
The roles aren’t terribly demanding, but the actors all step up and deliver solid performances. Timberlake is surprisingly good — his comedy chops are well-known but he delivers on the pathos and sincerity necessary here.
The special effects are mostly decent, but this isn’t an effects-heavy science fiction film, so that’s not much of a problem. Where “In Time” really shines is with its world-building. The fashions, vehicles, and idioms that make up the culture are well-crafted. Most of the buildings look like our own, but the clothes, especially the dresses in the rich zones, are just unusual enough to let us know we’re not in this century. There are almost no references to money (and the solitary one is in a ridiculous one-liner that feels added-on) — rich people “come from time” or are “worth centuries,” and saunter from place to place. They have lots of time, so why hurry? Only people from the ghetto run.
“In Time” isn’t a brilliant film, but it’s a good one. If you look for subtlety or character development in your films, or hate movies that off female characters to provide the hero with motivation, avoid it. If you’re just looking for a couple entertaining hours at the movies, though, it’s worth your time.