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In Time (Andrew Niccol, 2011)

March 6, 2012

Among the works of writer-director Andrew Niccol in the last fifteen years, his science fiction efforts, if not always great films, have at least been consistently interesting to some degree; his debut Gattaca and the Peter Weir directed The Truman Show stand as particularly strong efforts. In his latest dystopian film, advances in genetic technology mean that no one ages past twenty five, and people are given only one year after reaching that age to live. The premise bares some similarity to the 1976 film Logan’s Run, though In Time has death as something that can be deferred, additional time in one’s life being a currency that can be earned or taken from someone else.

The rich have so much time that they don’t even have to think about it, and can plausibly live forever. The hopeful poor, meanwhile, constantly have to earn or hustle for extra time, never able to settle into their own lives after twenty five; the society of the film is segregated into “time zones”, each representing varying degrees of class and wealth. Protagonist Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) finds himself receiving a century’s worth of time from a jaded rich man named Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) who has already lived for over a hundred years. Wandering into the ghetto of Dayton, the man promptly initiates his suicide after forcing all but five minutes of his remaining time upon Salas, consequently setting the living man up as a suspect for murder.

Fleeing to the wealthy compound of New Greenwich that he can now enter, the death of his mother and information provided by the late Hamilton spur Salas to try to take down his dystopian world’s equivalent of the “1%”. In Time was of course conceived and created prior to the beginning of the Occupy movement, but its release coinciding with the various protests lends the film a particularly notable potency. Though not exactly delivered with much subtlety, the surprisingly quiet and pleasantly slow first half of the film provides much enjoyment in its satirical swipes and raging against a certain culture amongst the rich.

Where In Time falters is in its second half. Upon being arrested by the society’s police force during an elite party, the vast majority of his donated time courtesy of Hamilton being confiscated, Salas abducts a party guest with whom he escapes. Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) is the daughter of the extremely wealthy Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), and her captor offers her return in exchange for a ransom. Weis doesn’t pay, Sylvia begins to sympathise with Salas, and the two pair up to rob “time banks”. This development sees the film focusing less on the satire and becoming more akin to a less than thrilling dystopian version of Bonnie and Clyde, with shades of Robin Hood and the Patty Hearst story thrown in for good measure. It becomes evident that the action-oriented criminal escapades of this second half, including a few car chase sequences and a gang subplot with a feeble Alex Pettyfer, are not a natural fit for Niccol; the film switches from being an enjoyably slow-burning intrigue to a dragging and sagging hour of middling caper antics.

One of the positive constants throughout the film is an engaging turn from Cillian Murphy as one of the Timekeeper enforcers, a dedicated but jaded hunter almost in the vein of Blade Runner’s Deckard. The film is also consistently nice on a visual level, courtesy of Roger Deakins’ cinematography. In Time has a version of the future, 2161 to be exact, that is refreshingly free of an abundance of special effects and, excluding the genetically embedded life clocks on everyone’s arms, lacking in much deviation technology and architecture-wise from the modern day; the estrangement produced through the sterile, basic realisation of this world is one of its strengths. It is a shame the film does deviate into such unsatisfying fare, but perhaps its premise could not help but be stretched thin over nearly two hours in any form.

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