Release Date: October 28, 2011
Director: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Stars: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy
MPAA Rating: PG-13
In Time has two major problems it must attempt to overcome from the start. The first is a strange, somewhat hokey premise and the second is the decision to cast Justin Timberlake as a tough, brooding street rat with a heart of gold. It has some (but not much) success handling Problem A and never really has any solution for Problem B. As a result, it ends up being a thoroughly underwhelming film.
The premise seems like something out of a Twilight Zone episode. In an unspecified future, all humans are now genetically engineered to never age past 25. Everyone has the ability to live forever, but time has become the world’s currency and you are only allowed to live for as long as the neon green countdown clock on your arm says you have left. Once it runs out, your body gives out.
Going to work every day banks you more time. Buying groceries or other goods costs you time. You can pass time to another person by clutching their wrist Roman solider style and psychically willing it to them (and you can steal someone else’s time the same way if you can mentally overpower them). The lower class and the upper class are separated into different isolated boroughs and never encounter one another. To get from Canton – the neighborhood where the poorest people are literally living day to day – to New Greenwich – where the rich have all the time in the world – costs you a year off your clock in tolls.
The film works best when it’s exploring the paradox of these two worlds. The people in New Greenwich can live for centuries if they are careful, but they can still succumb to a car crash, shooting or any other violent end. So they live their lives cautiously with bodyguards always at their sides, never taking any unnecessary risks and never really enjoying their immortality. Meanwhile, those in Canton, who are an unforeseen expense away from dying, get more out of their lives because they never know when they’ll be out of time. The scenes spent exploring this dichotomy are easily the best in the film.
However, too often the film gets heavy handed with its overly simplistic message, which is essentially that rich people are evil and will let poor people die if it benefits them. It’s a movie the Occupy Wall Street crowd can easily get behind – the greed of the upper class is literally killing poor people. There aren’t really any shades of gray in the movie – everyone is either good or evil. And the film lacks the subtlety to make it’s point about wealthy without sounding overly preachy.
Making matters worse is the sloppiness of the writing. There are too many plot holes and convenient turns of event. Characters make really stupid decisions – decisions that no one with a countdown on their forearm would ever make – in order to create dramatic moments where someone’s time is about to run down to zero. A pivotal scene in the movie actually has a character decide to chase after the protagonists instead of adding more time to his wrist, even though his clock is about to run out and it takes all of about three seconds to add more time if you have it.
Casting Justin Timberlake as the lead in the film only makes matters worse. I’m actually a fan of Timberlake – I think he’s an incredibly funny and charismatic guy. But he’s all wrong to play a tough guy from the streets who is itching to take on the establishment. He can’t pull off brooding at all and the times when he has to pull a gun on someone or square off against the police or local criminals had me rolling my eyes.
I’m not sure if finding someone else to play the part would have helped to hide some of the film’s other flaws, but putting Timberlake in the lead certainly doesn’t help. The role should have gone to someone more like Donnie Wahlberg (who is too old for the part, but has the required swagger and machismo to pull it off). Or even Cillian Murphy, who is cast in this film as a “Timekeeper” – which is essentially a police office who handles all time-related matters – could have easily played Timberlake’s role.
But with the wrong guy in the lead, a hokey overall message and a boatload of plot holes, In Time ends up being a messy, disappointing movie. There are a few moments that are quite enjoyable and a handful of times when they actually do something fun and creative with the film’s unique premise, but by and large this film is just a waste of time.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.