Mosaic / Reviews / November 2, 2011

not worth audience’s time

“In Time” begins with an intriguing concept: at some point in the future, scientists have cured aging. Nobody grows older than 25. Disease, we presume, has also been wiped out. Theoretically, everyone should live forever.

If only. Overpopulation and economic concerns lead to a new system: once you hit your 25th year, your life becomes currency.

Wealth is measured through one’s temporal stockpile. The rich are extravagant, immortal slowpokes, lounging around with centuries on their watch. The poor rush around the ghetto, trying to rack up enough minutes for one more day.

It’s a — excuse the pun — timely concept, touching upon the concern that people’s lives have become synonymous with their economic status. Well-executed, it could have been a good movie too. If only.

Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, a working class shmo whose currency clock (a line of green numbers on his and everyone else’s arm) barely reaches 24 hours.

He ends up with far more when a suicidal bourgeois gives him 116 years of excess time. He no longer fits into either social group. In the ghetto, people will kill for his time. In the upper class, he’s a fraud, and the police want him behind bars.

In a better version of “In Time,” we would have followed Will’s exploration of the upper class and discovered exactly what’s at stake. Class differences would be exploited in a meaningful manner, peeling away stereotypes to find the complex humanity beneath.

The version we get rushes through its opening scenes, past the exposition and character introduction and into thrills. From then on, there’s not much else.

Cillian Murphy, one of the best actors in the film, is wasted as Timekeeper Donovan, the main police officer in charge of capturing Will. He possesses considerable range that is never utilized. Instead he drives cars really fast and runs across rooftops, shooting at (and always missing) our heroes.

Will spends less time questioning his world’s reality than getting involved with Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), a rich girl whose father runs a time-based stock company.

I respect Seyfried. She was the only redeeming value in the otherwise tepid “Red Riding Hood.” Here, she’s a walking cardboard box. She shares no chemistry with Timberlake and adds nothing to a story that would have been more compelling without her.

It’s hard to believe Andrew Niccols wrote and directed this lousy film after bringing us “GATTACA”, an indie sci-fi flick that raised an eyeglass to the ethics of genetic engineering. It was preachy, but it preached convincingly.

“In Time” preaches entirely through strawmen. Its villains are greedy capitalists, hypocritical cops, or outright crooks. They speak in monologues and clichés (“It’s economic Darwinism,” one villain declares with a sneer). Corny one-liners sneak into a narrative that should be treated seriously.

The most pressing questions — would one choose to live forever if others die, do our lives have meaning outside our livelihood — are pushed aside. We are told simply to trust the heroes’ judgment. There is no room for dissent.

“In Time” aims for propaganda rather than debate. It sacrifices its smartness for stupidity, and while you’re better off seeing it this week than, say, “Puss in Boots,” you’d be even better off saving your money and renting “GATTACA.” At least that film respects your intelligence throughout.

Ivan Keta
Ivan Keta is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student. In 2013, he won first place in Critical Film Review from the Illinois College Press Association, competing in the open division against dozens of other Illinois college newspapers.

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