In Time, the new action thriller from Gattaca and Lord of War director Andrew Niccol, dives into its tricky sci-fi premise and sticks with it admirably. In a world in which immortality is possible, humans are genetically engineered to live only until 25 unless they can literally "buy" time--there's room for only so many immortals, so the wealthy live forever while the poor live literally day by day. The amount of time you have left is displayed for everyone to see in a bright green ticker on your arm-- you can flash it to gain entry to an exclusive club, or hold it up in desperation to ask for mercy as the final seconds of your wealth, your life, tick away.
There are a million avenues to explore with a premise this interesting, but unfortunately Niccol goes with the most rote and overly complicated action plot, which there's lots of speechifying and running and shooting and glamorous women, but not much fun to be had amid the mayhem. As the crusading former clock-puncher who comes into a wealth of time thanks to a suicidal billionaire (Matt Bomer, very good in his brief scenes), Justin Timberlake is a grim-faced hero with too little of the swagger that defined his music career. We're told that his father also tried to upend the system that has the poor dying early, and we're given heavy-duty character motivation thanks to his mother (Olivia Wilde, and yes, it's just as creepy seeing her play Timberlake's mom as it sounds). But Timberlake's Will is no Deckard, or any other sci-fi hero who guided us through an unfamiliar world with purpose; it's not Timberlake's fault that the movie doesn't live up to its potential, but he doesn't really help matters either.
Newly wealthy and suspected of murder by the timekeepers (a.k.a. the cops), Will infiltrates high society with the intention of taking it down from the inside, only to have to go on the run almost immediately. He takes with him as a hostage rich girl Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), who flirts with Will long enough that we know she secretly wants the adventure anyway. It doesn't take long for them to figure out their strategy of becoming a futuristic Bonnie & Clyde, robbing the time banks owned by her dad (Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men's Pete Campbell) and handing out the wealth to the struggling poor. If you think In Time is going to ignore those parallels to contemporary calls for redistribution of wealth and recognition of the 99%, you are looking for a sci-fi allegory far less bald-faced than this one.
As the head timekeeper who shows off his status by wearing a long leather jacket and constantly chewing gum, Cillian Murphy brings an open-mouthed ferocity that actually livens up the film whenever he's in it. In a cast that by necessity consists entirely of young people, Murphy is the only one who seems weathered and gruff, and his scenes with Timberlake are clear-cut contrasts of someone who gets acting and someone still figuring out the ineffable requirements of screen presence. I'd watch an entire movie around Murphy's sci-fi Javert, or even one focused more tightly on the cat-and-mouse game between him and Will.. But In Time muddles up those stories with so much more, and loses track of the nifty sci-fi idea that is the best thing the movie has going for it.
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