Mitt Romney's President Obama's universe healthcare plan appears to be on a collision course with the Supreme Court, and people are taking to the streets to protest a government they feel caters to the wealthy. So the timing couldn't be better for writer-director's Andrew Niccol's new sci-fi thriller, "In Time," about a guy who finds himself on the run after receiving a lifesaving windfall. Unfortunately, the film isn’t nearly as good as the timing.
Set in a future where we've been genetically engineered to display on our forearm the amount of time we have left to live, "In Time" stars Justin Timberlake as Will Salas (pronounced "solace," of course), a work-a-day hump living literally day to day.
Like everyone else, Will was born with a year's credit on his arm, but it wasn't available to him until he reached his 25th birthday, at which point his body stopped aging. The entire economy is based on time, and you present your wrist like an E-Z Pass to pay for anything, and to transfer funds between two people you need only touch wrists.
One night Will meets millionaire Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), a 105-year-old man who's had enough and decides to give Will more than a century before committing suicide. This chain of events immediately makes our hero a murder suspect, a situation he makes worse by taking hostage a billionaire's daughter, Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), and there's a murderous thug on the loose, Fortis (a shockingly well cast Alex Pettyfer), who feels that Will stole Henry's minutes from him.
Any time a filmmaker decides to guess at the future, there are countless pitfalls of which to beware, but Niccol's vision is too incomplete and/or incongruous. In a world where they've managed to convert the entire economy to a time-based system, why is it that the security measures in place to protect people's assets aren’t as good as today's bank cards? Why is it that all your wealth can be taken from you by grabbing your hand? How is it that we don’t yet have cellphone chips implanted in our heads? In the future envisioned by Niccol, all the technological advancements have been in the service of time, while in all other facets of life, from fashion to banking, we’ve moved backwards.
And even if you let go of the technological failings of "In Time," there's a host of philosophical issues. First, don’t we already live in a world where time is money? Isn’t "a dollar" just another way to say "three minutes"?
The phrase "For a few to be immortal, many must die," is uttered more than once, much to Will's outrage, but that just makes sense, no? If people don’t die, we'd run out of room, as Hamilton notes, so we need people to die, right? In the same speech, Hamilton says there's more than enough time that no one needs to die "before their time."
OK, let's pretend that all the rich folk agree to share their wealth—do we leave it to people to decide on their own that it's time to die? Or do we live in a world with death panels? The villain, Philippe Weis (is that name bougie and "white" enough for you?), sneers at one point that sharing his time won’t really help poor people, it will only prolong their misery, which sounds pretty cold until you remember that one guy drank himself to death earlier in the film, after being gifted a large chunk of time.
All could be forgiven—or at the very least overlooked—if "In Time" were an immersive stone-cold thrill ride, but it's not. There's not a single twist or unexpected turn, all the characters are fairly static, and Niccol fails to create a fully formed future, as he did for "Gattacca."
Timberlake and Seyfried "look cute together", as she notes, but it's hard to take the pair seriously as a futuristic Bonnie & Clyde, as they lack both the hard-edged rage and maniacal glee that made than film so good.
"In Time" is a well-intentioned thriller that fails emotionally, intellectually and visually, leaving you scratching your head rather than shaking your fist.