Andrew Niccol’s In Time features one of the best concepts I’ve seen in a science fiction film. It is set in a world where people stop aging at 25. But eternal youth comes with a price. The moment you turn 25, a literal biological clock set at 365 days pops up on your forearm, digitally counting down the seconds until your time runs out. Once it hits zero, you randomly convulse and die, as if someone just unplugged you off the grid in The Matrix. To avoid this grisly fate, people find jobs to earn minutes, hours and days that’ll bolster their tickers. Say you want a rent a room at a hotel for a night, that’ll cost you five days. If you want to buy a classy Porsche, it’s going to set you back five months! You want to move into a richer time zone? That’s going to cost you an entire year! Yup, in this world, time literally is money. But times are difficult and the ever inflating cost of living is making it harder for people to survive. While the rich live for centuries in rich time zones, the poor starve and kill each other for minutes in the ghetto.
One of these poor schmucks is Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a 28-year-old (known as 25+3) whose life involves working hard labor and scraping by from day to day. A talented gambler, Will spends his evenings frequenting a local bar, trying to score more hours in hopes of making things easier for his mom (Olivia Wilde) and him. One night at the bar, Will meets Henry Hamilton (a very impressive Matt Bomer), a depressed but well-off intellectual who graciously buys everyone drinks. This silly act automatically catches the attention of thieves (known as Minutemen) who correctly suspect that Hamilton comes “from time” (he has more than 100 years on his clock). Since time can be stolen by a simple twist of the arm, it isn’t long before Hamilton is attacked by the Minutemen. Lucky for him, Salas comes to his rescue. Hearing about Salas’ plight, the disheartened Hamilton donates all his time to Will while he’s asleep and then without any explanation, commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. Suddenly engraved with a century on his ticker, Will sets out to turn his life around and beat the corrupt system that caters to keeping the 1% richer and the 99% poorer. Sound familiar?
Before he can go about uprooting the system like the Count of Monte Cristo, Salas gets adventurous and moves to New Greenwich – the home of the 1% who control the world – to engage in some quick gambling, philandering and good old fashioned revenge since that’s Hollywood’s rule of thumb. Naturally, he gets all of them – making an enemy of the richest man in the world, Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) by emptying the rich man’s pockets for an hour, and romancing his rebellious daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). But time soon catches up with Salas when he learns that he’s wanted for the murder of Hamilton by the police (known as Timekeepers) led by Timekeeper Leon (Cillian Murphy).
Writer-director Andrew Niccol, who directed the underrated dramas Gattaca and Lord of War, and wrote the Oscar-nominated The Truman Show, has a knack for coming up with brilliant concepts. In Time is no different but alas, great concepts don’t necessarily make great movies because as it stands, In Time, ranks as one of the biggest squandered opportunities of 2011. The problem here is that with all the work spent on coming up with a phenomenal concept, Niccol seems to have forgotten two of the most vital ingredients in connoting a good film – a fresh plot and interesting characters. While the film’s first half-hour comes off as a clever alternative version of Logan’s Run, most to all of the interesting ideas are discarded in favor of a dull, derivative chase movie that resembles some strange amalgamation of Bonnie and Clyde and Robin Hood – which makes no sense whatsoever.
Even stranger is that Niccol never explores how and why the world came to be this way. Was it over-population, lack of resources, or was it just plain vanity? The big question of WHY is never asked or answered which is frustrating for anyone interested in dystopian science fiction. What Niccol does explore is the disparity between the rich and poor in contemporary American society – a timely message that sadly, doesn’t register since he’s more concerned with his 21st century Bonnie & Clyde.
Unfortunately, Niccol doesn’t even give his Salas & Sylvia any rooting interest either. Therefore Timberlake and Seyfried, both talented actors, can only do so much with their characters. While Timberlake, who has proved he can handle both comedy (Friends with Benefits) and drama (The Social Network) commendably, manages to pass by on charisma alone, Seyfried is relegated to rapidly alternating between over-acting and underplaying. It’s as if Niccol directed her to mimic a Stepford wife. At least she looks ravishing in those impeccable Colleen Atwood-designed threads. I’d give up a couple of months to be with her but I digress.
In Time may feature the most original science fiction idea since Christopher Nolan’s Inception but it’s all for naught since writer-director-producer Andrew Niccol wastes his idea with a shoddy “wronged-man” plot that’s derivative of Bonnie & Clyde and Robin Hood, poorly-written characters, and bland acting. There isn’t any rooting interesting in the leads, the villains are cartoonish, and the storyline is dull. Hell, even the cinematography is a letdown, seeing how Roger Deakins, the best working cinematographer in Hollywood, is the one who lenses it.