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In Time Movie Review - -

In Time

Reviewed by Damien Straker on October 27th, 2011
Twentieth Century Fox
presents a film directed by Andrew Niccol
Screenplay by Andrew Niccol
Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy and Olivia Wilde
Running Time:
109 mins
Rating: M
Released:  October 27th, 2011




In the future people suddenly stop ageing at twenty-five years old. They can live longer by working for more hours, adding to their dwindling lifespan engraved on their arms. Time is also a currency where one can spend individual minutes or hours on commodities and share time with others to survive. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) and his mother Rachel (Olivia Wilde) are a part of this dystopia. One night at a bar, Will attempts to save a man who is being pursued by gangsters because he has a century’s worth of time on his arm. They escape and the man reveals that society is deliberately increasing the cost of living in the ghettos so that people will die out. After the man shares his time and then kills himself, Will is investigated by a ‘timekeeper’ (Cillian Murphy), who is essentially a detective. Angry at another significant death, Will enters the wealthy district for revenge. At a casino he meets Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a wealthy businessman and they connect. When the timekeeper turns up, Will kidnaps Sylvia. She comes to admire his recklessness and together they begin to literally steal time from the rich.  

In Time has about as much subtly as a grandfather clock striking midnight. There will be heavy speculation about how such a fascinating concept, drawing richly from the themes of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian fiction, became such a misfire. The film is written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who previously made the science fiction film Gattaca (1997) and penned the screenplay for The Truman Show (1998). Those were terrific films, examining surveillance in such intelligent and visually inventive ways. By writing and directing this himself, his first feature since Lord of War (2005), Niccol has not been able to take a step back from his own material. His script is at fault here because it reads like a bad first draft. In a sea of mindless action films and reboots, he deserves credit for attempting to touch on ideas of class and economics. Yet it never overcomes the starting block of being more than just a potentially good idea. All of the characters are sketchily drawn and reveal too thinly the transparency and mechanics of the screenplay. As the characters stand around to debate how unjust society has become, we realise that they are ciphers for Niccol’s thematic concerns. This would matter less if the lines were well written but the dialogue is grating and repetitive, thanks to clunkers like: “No one should live like this. You’ve never lived a day in your life father!” As shown in the superior dystopian film Children of Men (2006), a distinguishable setting and selective camerawork is invaluable to expressing a way of life. But Niccol’s has forgotten the golden rule of screenwriting: ‘show, don’t tell’. He lacks aid and imagination from the film’s cheap visual design. The city, mimicking the likes of an impoverished Detroit, is never affecting and given this is meant to be a world where time can be transferred in a handshake you’d expect its architecture to be more elaborately enhanced.

Potential for social commentary and satire is also weakened by Niccol’s bid to show his hand too soon. There are no shades of grey here. The rich are wealthy but bored and the poor are cheated by the state so that it increases the cost of living. Sound familiar? The director compounds the simplicity of this issue by having characters verbally reference the likes of Charles Darwin and the ‘survival of the fittest’. There is rarely a moment where the themes are allowed to boil under the surface, letting the audience think for themselves. Viewed as a straight thriller, In Time is an untidy piece. The narrative is episodic, made up of obligatory car chases and superfluous characters. The script needed tightening because there are scenes, such as the one in a casino, that are overextended and logically amiss. The strangest inclusion is probably its best and that’s when the film alludes to Bonnie and Clyde (loosely) and John Dillinger, as Will and Sylvia start robbing places, giving out time quotients to the poor. If it had focused on a series of heists and had less of the gangsters and Sylvia’s father, it would have been more cohesive. The performances are mostly uninspired. Timberlake, brilliant in The Social Network (2010), has proven that he can act. The kid is a born performer but he’s been reined in and told to scowl more, which means the film makes less use of his charisma or cheek. Murphy looks like he’s just walked off the set of The Matrix (1999) and Seyfried brings little edge to her character. When she says that her father thinks she’s reckless it’s laughable. Olivia Wilde has the most thankless part because with just two or three scenes she’s reduced to little but a cameo. Given that there was an embargo preventing any reviews of In Time to be published before its starting date, it’s presumable that the studios saw what was coming. Once this silly film is released officially in America there will be a new reason to hate socialism.


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