After seeing In Time, I mentioned to a friend that it played like a less complex, more rudimentary version of 1997’s great Nietzschean sci-fi film Gattaca. Well, imdb.com to the rescue! Turns out, In Time was in made by writer/director Andrew Niccol, who also did Gattaca. (Dag, I really should read those pesky press kits the studios send me.)
Not sure what it says about Niccol that his work has gotten less sophisticated over the years—and I’m tempted to say, skip In Time and rewatch Gattaca instead—but the guy clearly knows his way around a sci-fi film.
First the good news: In Time was the first Justin Timberlake film that, for me at least, didn’t play like a referendum on his ability as a movie star. I just accept him now as a bona fide actor, even if I still think he’s more gifted as a musician. Still, with his head shaved and his body sculpted (!), he’s a credible action hero. Plus, he has that undeniable JT charm.
Timberlake plays Will Salas, a young man who is living his society’s version of paycheck-to-paycheck—i.e., day-to-day. In the film’s alternate reality, time is the only currency. Everyone lives to be 25—and never physically ages after that. Beyond that, your days are numbered. The super rich have decades, even centuries to live. The poor have to scrape by on hours—working, hustling, and stealing just to stay alive. (Your “clock” is imbedded digitally in your arm, like an LED tattoo.)
The premise brings about a few (moderately) clever scenarios. In the opening scene, Will wakes up and wanders into his kitchen where a beautiful young woman (Olivia Wilde) is doing dishes. “Hi mom,” he says.
Later, he meets a wealthy businessman (Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser) at a poker game, with a fetching young woman named Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) is at his side. “You’re wondering if she’s my wife or my daughter, aren’t you?” the businessman says. (Luckily for Will—and for the sake of the film’s workmanlike romance plot—it’s his daughter.)
I also liked the film’s take on “time zones”—in the film’s vernacular, they have nothing to do with the time of day but are districts where people live. The ritzier “time zones” require tolls of over a month just to gain entrance, thus keeping out the time-deprived masses.
The action takes off when a wealthy man (Matt Bomer), who is over 100 years old, decides to essentially commit suicide by giving Will his remaining time. He also explains to Will the sad truth: that the poor are kept down for a reason—they must die for the rich to live, otherwise the earth will run out of precious resources.
Those who haven’t read or seen much science fiction will undoubtedly be amazed at the film’s parallels to what’s happening with the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially when Will and Sylvia become a kind of modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, giving time to the poor. But, again, this is the kind of stuff that lines the science fiction shelves at libraries.
The action, too, is on the generic side—lots of racing against the clock as Will’s digital lifespan runs down. But there’s some fun interplay between Will and a jaded cop (Cillian Murphy), who blindly maintains the status quo.
For newbies to the genre, In Time is a pretty nifty sci-fi thriller—a palate-cleanser, if you will. See it first and then graduate to Gattaca.