After a gap of 6 years since he wrote and directed Nicolas Cage in the average Lord Of War (2005), Andrew Niccol is back with In Time, a film in which he returns to the sci-fi world that he mined successfully for Gattaca (1997) and to a lesser extent in S1mone (2001).
Set in the near future, In Time inhabits a world where genetic engineering has allowed humans to live forever, and the ageing process to stop at 25 years old. Once a person reaches 25 however, they must accrue enough time to keep themselves alive. Time has replaced money as the currency of the world, and so while the rich have thousands and millions of years to play with, the poor live day-to-day, scraping together enough minutes and hours to survive. It is here we meet Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a factory worker who has lost his father when his time ran out, and who manages to earn enough time to keep himself and his mother (Olivia Wilde) alive. One night in a bar he saves the life of a rich man who gives Will a century of years as reward and tells him of the conspiracy among the rich which keeps the population under control and lets the poor die. As the taxes go up however, Will’s Mother runs out of time and dies in Will’s arms, just as he was about to give her more time. Enraged, Will takes his new wealth and determines to find the corrupt rich people who control the unfair system. He meets Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), and wins thousands of years gambling. When the police – or Minutemen – led by Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) track him down, he takes Weis’s daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) hostage, and they embark on a criminal spree, robbing time and spreading it among the poor.
You don’t have to look very far to see the parable involved here. This is a Robin Hood tale for the future age, and the replacement of money with time as a currency doesn’t disguise the fact that this is a moral tale directed at the evils of capitalism and the wealth of the world belonging in the hands of the rich few, while the poor of the world starve. While Niccol doesn’t do anything to hide this simple conceit, he also manages to avoid labouring the point too much, instead concentrating on the action, in what is essentially also a chase movie. As the world’s population hit 7 billion this year, while all around the financial meltdown continues to threaten the established economies, it’s a timely tale to tell. With people living longer in developed countries, how will the Earth sustain the ever rising population? Could the proper sharing of existing wealth around the globe improve the living conditions of the poor, instead of being kept by the lucky few? All these points are raised, and Niccol seems to put himself firmly on the side of the poor and underclass, suggesting spreading the wealth and letting everyone have a chance at a succesful, long life is only fair.
The main problem with that is, of course, it is massively over-simplified, and in essence, it seems the entire system has to be scrapped and replaced with something better, but as the film points out towards its climax, the system collapsing would result in anarchy. As the Minutemen watch the world change, they ask what they should do? ‘Go home’ says Minuteman Rado,as he lays down his gun and walks out. But if economic (or time) equality leads to no law and order, is it something that most would genuinely desire?
The other problem exists on the Hollywood, or film in general, level. Churlish it may seem, but, as well as genetic engineering halting the aging process at 25, it has also apparently stopped the appearance of anyone overweight, bald or ugly. There is no information given that this is what has happened, but needless to say, not only is Will’s mother still 25 in appearance, but just so happens to look as glamorous and beautiful as Olivia Wilde too. Amongst the poor and starving, there are those made to look grubby and greasy, but everyone is more or less a perfect 25-year-old. The closest we get to someone looking less than perfect is Johnny Galecki as Will’s friend, Borel, and this is clearly down to alcohol we are told. Elsewhere, all the women in the poor areas look like glamour models, even the prostitutes, while the men all look like Justin Timberlake. Incidentally, given the conceit that everyone should look 25 and not a day older, the casting seems somewhat haphazard given that Timberlake is 30, Murphy 34, Galecki 36, and Kartheiser 32 – to be frank, without suspending disbelief, it’s hard to see them as 25 year olds. At least Seyfreid and Wilde are in the right ball park for age.
That aside, all those mentioned perform well, and manage to convince as older people trapped in younger bodies, particularly Kartheiser as the tired, corrupt 100-something Weis and Murphy as the 80-something cop. Timberlake and Seyfreid mostly have to look good and run around and do this to good effect. The only mis-step in the cast and plot is Alex Pettyfer (only 21, but playing older!) as Fortis, a lowdown petty criminal who steals time from the poor for himself. Apart from providing a bit of action, he serves little purpose, and Pettyfer continues to show that he can’t act very well, following on from the disappointing Stormbreaker, I Am Number Four and the awful Beastly (quite a run of drivel for one so young). Fortunately here, he isn’t significant enough to unbalance the otherwise likeable film.
Niccol does a steady job as director, helped by some gorgeous photography by Roger Deakins and a decent score from Craig Armstrong. A good return to familiar territory for Niccol, and a watchable piece of entertainment, even if it over-simplifies the issues to make a neat morality tale.
Film Rating: 3.5 out of 5.