In Time - movie review
Who's saying what
They whack each other on the back in celebration. One of them shotguns a can of Bud. A Kit-Cat Klock ticks away determinedly on the rear wall of the conference room. The Bangles start playing softly in the background ("Time, time, time, look what's become of us...") and then there's a time cut to... I'm sorry, I lost track of time.
You see, while Andrew Niccol's retro-futurist romp In Time was not, in fact, written by a party of collaborative screenwriting bros, if you were to devise a drinking game based on taking a shot each time (DAMMIT) the script dropped a clock-crazy line, you'd be dead in a pool of alcohol within fifteen minutes.
In a non-descript future, the ageing gene has been switched off: the body's age is capped at 25 years, and then it's up to the individual to earn more time to live. Therefore, the rich live for centuries, while the poor live literally day to day. Time has become currency: a coffee might cost you five minutes, a car a few months. People work eight hours to earn a few days, if they're lucky. Time literally is money.
Don't worry, you get the hang of it eventually.
Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one of those poor people. Salas slaves away at a factory, putting together the stamp-like contraptions that add or subtract time from the ticking LED clocks that glow green in everyone's wrists. He lives with his mother, Rachael (Olivia Wilde), who is also a slave to the wage.
In the ghetto, having a few weeks on the clock is considered living large. Consequently, its residents find themselves lending each other chunks of time just to get by. An adorable local urchin bails Will up with a bell-like "You got a minute?" and he, being a generous sort, replies "Take five" in approximately the eleventy millionth line of time-centric dialogue.
Will's best friend Borel (Johnny Galecki) drinks to allay the pain of their hardscrabble existence, and it's at a local dive bar that Salas meets Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), a rich man who's burning through a century like there's no tomorrow.
When a bunch of Minutemen, led by Fortis (Alex Pettyfer), try to fight Hamilton for his time, Will leaps into action and hides him away in the industrial district. It turns out Hamilton has already been alive for nearly a century, and despite Will's protestations, transfers his time to Will while he sleeps (writing "DON'T WASTE MY TIME" on the window before disappearing).
Next thing you know Will is wanted for Hamilton's "murder", and Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) is on the case. Will crosses the time-zones until he reaches New Greenwitch, where the rich hang out - if he stays in the ghetto, the Minutemen will probably do him in.
He hits the casino, where it's oddly comforting to hear that even in this dystopian future, wan muzak versions of Astrud Gilberto's So Nice still soundtrack the high rollers lounge. While ballin' outta control over the poker table, Will meets the ultra-rich businessman Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) and his over-protected daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Next thing you know Will and Sylvia are on the lam, but time is of the essence and they find themselves running down the clock so... oh, you get the idea.
In spite of its more than occasional moments of extreme silliness, In Time is so committed to the daft logic of its vision that it eventually wins you over; how can you stay mad at a film where every single character is named after a noted watchmaker?
It's not so much because of the acting: Timberlake is a servicable lead with a truly disconcerting left profile, and Seyfried sometimes delivers her lines as though she's just woken from a deep sleep; perhaps she's just concentrating on not toppling over in the sky-high heels Sylvia inexplicably wears through the entire ordeal. Wilde injects an impressive amount of pathos into her brief role as Will's mother, and Cillian Murphy, bless him, takes his Timekeeper role so seriously you will want to hug him and whisper "It's okay, we believe you".
The retro-futurist production design is only partly successful: the upcycled cars (the Timekeepers drive matte black muscle cars with Daft Punk-style LED lights) are fantastic, but the rich appear to exist in a world where Franco Cozzo has been elevated to the status of interior design god. However, the exteriors and technologies have a pleasingly "stalled" quality, as though everything stopped once the 'life clocks' were invented since nobody had any time (ugh) to design anything new.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins, shooting digital for the first time, weaves his trademark magic with the urban landscapes, however; most are deserted, since only the rich can afford to stand around or go for idle drives.
At this point in his career, writer/director/producer Niccol seems to be amusing himself - indeed he's admitted as much in terms of the winks and nods to Gattaca that he's peppered the film with.
As such, the film feels a little like listening to a conversation from a few feet away: you'll follow most of it, but you might also find yourself going "Wait, what?" a lot of the... time.
- three stars
In Time is in cinemas nationally from October 27th.
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