5-Word 365 #254 – In Time

There has been a bit of an upswing in quality in the last few years when it comes to science fiction movies. Today’s film from 2011 had the potential to be among the best. Did it fulfil that potential?

In Time

Interesting idea but flawed execution.

In the future, genetic engineering will reach the stage when everyone will stay 25 for ever. The only problem is, once you get to 25, you only have one year left to live. An internal clock starts counting down when your body stops getting older. When it gets to zero, it’s Goodnight Vienna. Time has become the currency, and is strictly controlled. The rich can live forever, while the poor scrape for each day. (Trailer Voice) Now, one man has the chance to fight the system.

With only four (completed) films as a writer/director, and two more as writer only, Andrew Niccol is considered among film geeks as one of the major cinematic proponents of “hard” science fiction in the last 15 years. When that filmography includes Gattaca and The Truman Show, it’s easy to see why. Like speculative fiction authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison, Niccol’s films use the trappings of the future to tell stories that reflect on the present. He has already looked at reality TV, genetic engineering and the cult of celebrity, now he turns his crystal ball on the economy (and something else, but that’s a surprise). The results are… mixed.

In the plus column, Justin Timberlake is solid as Will Salas, the One Man Who Can Make A Difference. Even in some of his weaker films, he has quietly been building a reputation as an actor with some talent who is not afraid to fuck with his pretty-boy pop star image. He handles all the running and jumping with aplomb, but the dead father subplot was a bit of a misfire. The cast give decent performances all round in fact, particularly Cillian Murphy as Raymond, the Javert-like Timekeeper, and Vincent Kartheiser as Weis, the oligarch in control of time itself. Amanda Seyfried is suitably wide-eyed and pretty as Weis’ daughter Sylvia, the ingenue bored to death (no pun intended) with her spoilt but sheltered life who becomes Will’s co-conspirator.

He’s really nailed the “Stand menacingly in front of a Big Board Of Doom” acting technique.

Alex McDowell’s production design is oddly retro for a film set over 100 years in the future. As with a lot of recent sci-fi, clothing fashions remain much like our own today. A lot of filmmakers have caught on to the fact that nothing dates a flick more than lycra bodysuits (just check out Logan’s Run if you’re in any doubt about that). Most of the design elements in the film in fact are very similar to what we have today, but tweaked just enough to be a little off. Clearly it has all been very carefully thought out though. In Time is not a “throw it in” kind of movie. This is most obvious in the delineation between the Time Zones (pun most definitely intended), in everything from architecture to fashions and vehicles. In New Greenwich everything and everyone is smooth, shiny and clean, whereas the slums of Dayton are full of crumbling buildings with grates on the windows, and grime-encrusted buses ferrying the people around for an hour a ride. Even the colour palette changes from shiny blues and metallics to dull browns and faded patterns. My favourite touch though is that the cops all drive around in black ’69 Chargers. That is one damn sexy car.

l to r: Weis’ mother, wife and daughter. Is it wrong for me to be in favour of genetic engineering?

I did say the results were mixed, didn’t I? Well, there are a few problems here, and most of them are of the logic variety. Taken at face value, In Time would be a watchable, reasonably exciting film with some interesting, modern-day subtext. If you think about the details a bit closer though, it really starts to fall apart quite considerably. Some of this next part will likely be a bit spoilerific. First, after the ennui-struck Henry Hamilton (also known as Exposition Man, played by Matt Bomer) gives Will his first big donation, Will is tracked by a security camera. This system later spots him from just the top of his head driving in a convertible, but in the third act, when Will and Sylvia are on the run in Dayton, the cops resort to Wanted posters because the two can’t be located. Did someone turn off all the cameras? Another issue is with the geography. It is impossible to keep track of where all these places are in relation to each other, since the time it takes to get from New Greenwich to Dayton seems to change based solely on the needs of the plot.

Finally, Seyfried’s Sylvia makes a point of explaining to Will that she knew he wasn’t from New Greenwich because he did everything so quickly. The rich have no need to move fast because they have all the time in the world (I’m going easy on you here. The flick is full of shitty puns like this). Now, Amanda Seyfried is quite small – 5’3″ next to Timberlake’s 6’1″ – so the costumers have her wearing 5-inch heels all the time. That’s fair enough, but for someone who has never done anything in haste she sure is a natural at sprinting as if her life (literally) depends on it, and with her shoes still on. My roommate can’t walk down the stairs in heels without risking a twisted ankle and she’s been doing it for years. I’ll admit this last one is a tiny niggle really, but it is symptomatic of a bigger problem: suspension of disbelief. It’s disappointing when a film tries so hard to build a world in which to tell its story, only for that world to be riddled with little flaws and errors in the logic, and there are plenty more than what I’ve mentioned here.

Even after a hundred years, Britney’s ghost just wouldn’t leave the poor guy alone.

Back at the start, I said that In Time was Andrew Niccol’s statement on the current problems with the worldwide economy. Well it is, and it isn’t. With all the talk of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer it is easy to see today’s problems reflected – I think at one point someone even refers to themselves as “the 1%” – but look a little deeper: a small, elite group has total say on how everything works; there doesn’t seem to be any religion in this world (if everyone can be immortal, what need do you have for God?); the poor labour in factories and are forced to pay the prices as set by the ruling elite; the police are hated, drive around confiscating people’s most basic necessity, and try to compel the public to inform on subversive elements. Have you figured it out yet? This isn’t modern America. This isn’t capitalism ad absurdum. This is Soviet Russia! In this version, the revolution begins with a bank heist. It’s more cinematic than perestroika I suppose.

10 comments

  1. Mark Walker · September 11, 2012

    This could have been great but unfortunately fell flat. Brilliant concept though and nice write-up Ryan.

    • Ryan McNeely · September 12, 2012

      Thanks Mark. I don’t usually go in for dream casting or anything like that, but I can’t help thinking how this would have come out with maybe Duncan Jones as writer/director

      • Mark Walker · September 12, 2012

        D’you know, I quite like Niccol. I thought Gattaca was underrated and having the script of The Truman Show behind him I thought this would have been great. Sadly not but yeah, jones could have made something of this.

      • Ryan McNeely · September 12, 2012

        I hear ya, dude. I think I was more disappointed by this flick because I expected more from Niccol. While it wasn’t sci-fi, Lord of War was a cracking film too (although it did lose its way a little towards the end)

      • Mark Walker · September 12, 2012

        Absolutely man. Lord Of War was a crackin’ film. I had avoided it for years thinking it was rubbish but I really enjoyed it. Niccol’s track record wasn’t too shabby at all but he’s let himself down here.

  2. Morgan R. Lewis · September 11, 2012

    I agree with you, it had a great concept but poor execution. I wasn’t a big fan of Timberlake’s performance, though.

    I’m glad you mentioned how the economic system more closely resembles Soviet communism than capitalism; it was something I noticed when writing my own review, but which seems to have been overlooked by a lot of people who were looking for it to be a stinging indictment of capitalism run amok.

    • Ryan McNeely · September 12, 2012

      Yeah, that whole allegory seems to have fallen flat with most audiences. Just one more disappointment I suppose.

  3. mistylayne · September 12, 2012

    Hahaha, I’m so glad you mentioned her running in heels the whole time. My roommate and I thought that was hilarious and so off! Excellent write-up – it was a fun movie but definitely did fall flat of amazing.

    • Ryan McNeely · September 12, 2012

      You have to respect her skills though. I guess it was either that or have her stand on a box every time they wanted both of them in the same shot!

      • mistylayne · September 12, 2012

        Her feet were probably bleeding at the end of everyday and she probably had like a broken ankle, lol.

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