Andrew Niccol could be considered something of an expert at using the cover of science fiction to expose the holes in our current social system. In 1997’s brilliantly conceived Gattaca, Niccol took the idea of genetic tampering and produced an insightful morality tale about our desire for perfection and self worth. The elite in that film were those who were the most peerless in all aspects. In Time is much the same in that it’s a story with a very clear message about the dangers of extreme economic disparity(hey that sounds familiar), and the very human desire to basically live forever. But where it differs is that In Time is a silky smooth, edge of your seat action flick that’s not afraid to raise a few questions to ponder when it’s over.
In this world, there is no more money. The currency of this world is valued in time. Days, weeks, hours, even a few precious seconds are the most valued commodity. Everyone on the planet stops aging suddenly at the age of 25, met with a violent pulse that begins their life clock, signified by a glowing green countdown on their wrists. At this point you have only one year of life left, unless you’re able to buy more time. Through this insane system, the rich can essentially live for forever. They are immortal. The poor, on the other hand, are forced to scrap and fight for every spare second they can.
As you can imagine, this plays out in the worst possible ways. The segregated poor live in what amounts to crime ridden ghetto blocks, where anyone can be snuffed out for their remaining time at any moment. Most find ways to work for extra time, but as the cost of living continues to skyrocket, these efforts merely to stay alive becoming more futile. Such is the case for Will Salas(Justin Timberlake), a poor guy who at 25 has tacked on three more years of life. Every spare moment he has goes to his 50 year old mother(Olivia Wilde), who has been on her own since Will’s father was mysteriously killed years earlier. Will’s dream is to someday take his mom to New Greenwich, which I guess is like the future version of the Poconos, where she can get just a taste of the high life.
Will is a smart guy, a scrapper and a fighter just like his father, but he knows the walls are closing in and his family won’t be able to survive for long. He knows the system is wrong somehow, but there’s little he can do to change it. The opportunity arises when he meets Henry Hamilton(Matt Bomer), a man with way too much time in the wrong part of town. When Will saves him from a sure fire beatdown and probable clock stoppage, Henry reveals that he’s been alive for far too long. He’s tired of living yet experiencing nothing. He just wants to die. His last act is to transfer to Will nearly every second of time he has left, over a century’s worth.
This gives Will the reserves to do everything and anything he’s ever wanted, but it comes at a price. Not only is Will assumed to be Hamilton’s killer, but the people who control the market forces don’t like so much time being shifted to the undeserving, and they send their Timekeeper police force(led by a perfectly grizzled Cillian Murphy) to track Will down. Meanwhile he scores some new threads, a slick new ride, and speeds to New Greenwich. The film kicks into full on action mode at this point, where Will meets the Weis family, who control the world’s time reserves. Eluding capture, Will kidnaps the rebellious Sylvia Weis(Amanda Seyfried), and the two become like a futuristic Bonnie & Clyde, stealing time from the rich to give to the downtrodden.
Niccol keeps the action brisk at all times, and with the constant threat of the dwindling life clock there’s scarcely a moment to breathe. Just as in Gattaca, Niccol’s future is a sleek, stylish world of fast cars and plenty of open roads. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is breathtaking, in particular a perfectly shot night scene where Will and Sylvia skinny dip while the glow from their clocks radiates beneath the surface. Even the run down urban scenes, barren as they are, have a sort of desolate perfection to them.
Justin Timberlake continues to show he may be the hardest working man in showbiz, and with every single performance he gives us some different aspect of his personality. The amazing thing is how great he appears to be at each and every one. Here he’s equal parts action hero and dashing romantic lead. Paired up with Amanda Seyfried, the two struggle a bit to find any chemistry, but it comes together in the end when it’s most important.
In Time is unique, thought provoking sci-fi with a point, equivalent to the best of Philip K. Dick. Harlan Ellison, a well known fiction writer in his own right, may argue the point since he filed a plagiarism suit against Niccol, but In Time is a wholly unique piece of work that succeeds equally as social commentary and nifty Hollywood thrillride, worthy of banking a couple of your own life hours for.