Review: In Time
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few months, the country has recently seen the rise of a new protest movement known as Occupy Wall Street (seriously, if you haven’t heard of this yet you need to put down that Xbox controller right now and go outside for a few minutes). This movement takes the stance that the top %1 of the country controls well above 90% of the wealth and political influence in the country.
As someone who is concerned with all things geek, it is rare that I find myself in the world of politics (in my writing, at least). I certainly didn’t expect to find myself there when I ventured to my local theater tonight to see In Time, the new dystopian sci-fi film starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. But there I was, as this movie could just has easily have been titled Occupy Dystopian Future, or something similar. Read on for my spoiler free review
In Time takes place in a dystopian future where everyone has been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. When someone turns 25, he or she is given a year to live (there is literally a changing digital clock on everyone’s left forearm), and the only way to increase this time is to earn it. When your clock runs to zero, you die. Everything in this new world is bought and sold with time. We see people buy a cup of coffee with five minutes of their life. An 8-hour shift at the factory will earn you one day when you clock out. For us here in 2011, the expression living day-to-day is just that – an expression. When someone in this new world tells you that they are living day-to-day, they really mean it.
But just like any currency, there are some who have lots of it, and some who don’t. In the run-down areas – like the ghetto where Timberlake’s character (Will Salas) grew up – someone is lucky to have a week or two to their name. In the super-rich zone of New Greenwich, someone with only two hundred years to live is practically a pauper. The rich are essentially immortals, barring murder or some sort of accident. This world pretty clearly establishes its 1% and its 99%, and statements like “for a few to be immortal, many must die” really drive it home.
Toward the beginning of the film, Will finds himself with a sudden windfall of over 100 years on his clock, after having lived most of his life since turning 25 with little more than a day or two at a time. He vows that he won’t waste a minute of it, and sets off to New Greenwich to try and impart some change in this system that enslaves most of the world. What follows is a race both for and against time, as Will meets Sylvia (played by Seyfried) and they start their adventures to change the world, all while avoiding Raymond Leon’s (Cillian Murphy) police force of Timekeepers.
While I have been looking forward to this movie since I first heard about it, one of the biggest criticisms that I’ve heard of the movie (even from some of my fellow writers here at NNAR) is that the premise is ridiculous and that there is no way society would ever allow it to develop. I for one don’t really have a problem with this in a dystopian future setting. I think a cool idea that is well-executed in its world is awesome, even if I don’t know quite how the world got there in the first place.
If you are the type who likes to see the progression from this world to that, however, then you probably won’t enjoy this movie as much. Literally the first words out of Timberlake’s mouth are tantamount to, “So we’re in this dystopian future. We have too much to do in the next hundred minutes or so to bother explaining how this future came to be. Let’s get started.” And he is right. We are never even made aware of what year it is or how long the current status quo has existed. So yeah, maybe stay home if that’s what you’re after.
If you’re willing to come along for the ride, however, it is a pretty good one. The entire time-as-currency concept is pretty well executed overall, and the analogs to our society are pretty well established. There are time loan stores (with heavy interest rates), similar to the paycheck cashing services that exist in many lower income areas in the US today; there are time shelters instead of our soup kitchens/homeless shelters; and there are strip clubs where patrons make it rain minutes and hours. Ok, I made that last one up, but I’m sure it was in one of the scenes they cut. Also, as you might imagine, getting mugged sucks a lot more now, as your mugger is holding you at gunpoint for both your money and your life.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This movie was not made to win any Academy Awards. Aside from the politically charged stuff I mentioned earlier, In Time is a fun action movie with some cool ideas, so that’s just what you should expect from the performances therein. Timberlake does a perfectly adequate job as the leading man. He has the typical charm and charisma that he is known for, a few good action sequences, and a bit of emotion sprinkled throughout when appropriate. I really had a good time watching him – and there is nobody that comes to mind who should have played this instead. However, there wasn’t really enough to this (or really any) role to wow me in any real way. Everything I just said about Justin Timberlake applies to Amanda Seyfried as well, so I won’t repeat it.
Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Seyfried’s father, plays the exact same role that he plays on the hit series Mad Men, except that he is in a dystopian future, already fabulously successful, and is theoretically about 100 years old. If you like him on Mad Men, you’ll like him here. If not, you won’t.
The only actual disappointment I had from this film from a character perspective was Cillian Murphy, who plays the “timekeeper” in charge of pursuing Timberlake. The Timekeepers are the police force tasked with tracking down illegal activity related to theft or other misuse of time currency. I love Murphy as an actor (if you haven’t seen Sunshine, you should treat yourself), so it pained me to see him wearing a black trenchcoat that was A) very stereotypical of a police officer in a dystopian police force, and B) oversized so as to prevent him from looking like the badass he is, and instead just made him look silly. His character is also the most potentially interesting one that we know the least about. When the dialogue does finally tease out some cool facts about him, a major plot point interrupts the conversation. We never really get to discover him as a character, which means we miss out on both the character and Murphy’s performance in that development.
Cillian Murphy’s oversized coat aside (It really was just his too. All the other Timekeepers were wearing different badass garb, even if a bit stereotypical), the design of the film was solid across the board, in my opinion. It was refreshing to see that the poor and disadvantaged in this dystopian world were not living in sterile white houses and walking to work in orderly columns. No, they live in a total slum as you might imagine in East St. Louis or Detroit. I feel like this is so rarely seen in this type of story, and it was quite refreshing. The rich district of New Greenwich, on the other hand, is big, shiny, and sterile, and honestly feels very much like the New York City Financial District, which makes sense given the overall message (or at least insinuation) of the film.
Otherwise, the world is very much like you might expect ours to be. Fashions are largely the same, with a few weird shifts like more buttons on shirts and the occasional zipper on a jacket lapel; the cars are all throwbacks to Cadillacs and sports cars of the late 1960s, except sound effects tell us they are futuristic and some sort of non-fossil fuel based fanciness; and the rest of the world exists in the same “similar with some future technology thrown-in here and there” vein.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with In Time, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good sci-fi dystopia. As I said, this thing isn’t going to change your life. It isn’t even going to be one of those awesome hidden gems like Equilibrium that you show all of your friends. But it will be something you can head to the theater to enjoy with a bag of popcorn. After all, it’s only two hours of your life.