Inspired by countless sci-fi movies of the past, Andrew Niccol’s latest film In Time sports an intriguing premise. In an unspecified future, everyone is preordained with twenty-six years of life, with the aging process stopping at twenty-five. If you want to live longer, you have to either work for or inherit it; just like money today. The poor struggleto pay their bills, knowing that it’s literally a choice of life or death. Early in the picture the routine is established. Coffee costs four minutes, water bills is worth hours and top-of-the-line hotels demands weeks, even months. The time a person has left to live is literally depicted on your arm.
Our protagonist Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives in one of the less well-off time-zones, usually spending each waking moment with less than twenty-four hours to live. Will works hard, cares for his mother and is the kind of guy who’s game to look out for a stranger in trouble. One such stranger ends up being a notable rich-y Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer in a solid turn). Henry is over 100 years old with a century-plus worth of time left to live. He states that while his body remains vital, his mind feels ragged and – as a sense of gratitude – Henry gives his remaining plethora of days to Will, before letting himself die on a bridge.
Now Will has more time than he knows what to do with. Spurred on by various tragedies in his neighborhood, Will looks to overturn the system. Besides the obvious hiccup of those on top wanting to protecting their place, which includes one of the world’s most prominent figures (Vincent Kartheiser of “Mad Men”) and his curious daughter (Amanda Seyfried), Will is also the main suspect in Henry’s death for this world’s equivalent of the police; the Timekeepers.
All of this is ripe for a pretty good movie, which In Time is occasionally. Though Niccol’s, whose past efforts include Gattaca and S1mone, finds the “time” wordplay a bit to cutesy (“Do you have a minute” one man begs on the street), the universe created here is compelling. Flying cars don’t zip by and there aren’t trips to the moon, which lends the movie a greater sense of realism. The way people transfer time to one another is simple, yet effective. Plus, the world isn’t overcome by bland silvers or blues that have become the easy sci-fi norm of late. Instead it’s rich with colors, from cloudless days to streetlight covered nights; a welcome surprise that comes from master cinematographer Roger Deakins
The narrative detail isn’t as rich as the visual. The rich vs. poor theme of the movie is clunky. It finds a muddled middle-ground where the concept is more than a simple premise for an action movie, but not rounded out enough to carry the emotional heft of its dramatic moments. Hurting matters in this department is Timberlake, who is a capable actor in supporting character parts like last year’s The Social Network. Here, Timberlake’s quite bland in a role that is equally so. He doesn’t have the weight to carry moments of sadness or quiet. A good actor can be compelling while you watch him think and Timberlake isn’t there yet.
Some of the other actors involved point out this weaknessout more. Cillian Murphy plays the lead Timekeeper and in his limited screen-time brings a gray-area to the character’s actions. Alex Pettyfer is memorable too as a boisterous local thug. As for Seyfried, she of the anime eyes and often one-note, coy performances; she’s alright. Her role requires a spoiled brat to blossom under the realization of the harshness of society and she lands the flashes of excitement, not the rage-against-the-machine disillusionment.
In Time opens wide all across Seattle today.