I’m a sucker for movies built around cleverly complex machinations. A man has spent his entire life being the protagonist of a TV show he’s not aware he’s in. A society of vampires is running out of humans to draw blood from. A group of thieves must dive into the sleeping mind of a magnate’s son and build dreams within dreams to get deep enough to plant an idea to destroy his empire. Here, the only currency is time. As soon as you turn twenty-five, your time starts ticking away. Coffee costs minutes, cars cost years, many wake up without enough hours to make it through the day. So with time in such a crunch, why does In Time take so long to resolve?
In Time is actually brought to us by the mind of Andrew Niccol, who brought us the aforementioned Truman Show and several other mind-twisters. The whole thing is an odd premise, but that’s par for the course. Justin Timberlake is oddly not quite ready for starring roles. Amanda Seyfried is oddly attractive. Having everyone stop at the age of twenty-five when there are people involved that obviously look older (like timekeeper Cillian Murphy), or too young (Madmen‘s cherubim Vincent Kartheiser plays Seyfried’s father) requires you to suspend your disbelief a bit.
Will Salas (Timberlake) lives in the ghetto (Dayton, Ohio apparently) and he gets by the skin of his teeth as his time is always in short supply. Planning to take his mother (Olivia Wilde. Yes, I know, odd.) somewhere special for her birthday, she ends up dying mere seconds before he can deliver the valuable time she needs. With a pop, she ‘times out’ and the glowing clock on her forearm goes dark (Did I mention everyone has green glowing clocks in their left forearms?). With the grant of a century to his own clock from an old man who wanted to end it all, he spends over a year (again, currency) crossing between “time zones” to a bourgeoisie district where he seeks to right things, kidnapping Seyfried’s Sylvia. He takes her back to the ghetto, teaches her the value of her time, and they become a Bonnie & Clyde-style couple who raid her father’s vaults to redistribute the time locked within.
The problem is that the movie starts with two hours on its clock and we watch as it slowly ticks away. It does a great job explaining the rules of the world, but in a universe where people die mere moments from a deposit of time into their wrists, In Time fails to learn from the lessons of its characters. Instead, the movie plods from place to place, not quite meandering, but failing to build any sense of tension as time is obviously running out. The premise is clever enough to overlook many of the movie’s flaws, thankfully; those with a modest sense of adventure will be more than rewarded by In Time‘s possibilities.
SPOILER SECTION FOLLOWS (CLICK AND DRAG MOUSE OVER TO REVEAL)
The coolest scene in the movie involves a thread dealing with the Minutemen, the closest thing to a mob in the ghettos here. (And yes, the name is cool as hell). They bully and intimidate the fair citizens here, robbing people of days and weeks to get what they want. When the Minutemen finally track down the wanted Will and Sylvia in a hotel they booked entirely with stolen time, their charismatic leader decides to take on Salas in a more manly style: a forearm wrestle. See, to transfer time you place you right arm palm up, to receive it you place it face down. As a result, an entire death sport is created by merely twisting the length of your forearm. Salas enlists a trick his father taught him in which he voluntarily drains to mere seconds of life, then flip the stakes as the opponent gets distracted by his clock. As Salas has his opponent’s time down to mere seconds, his armed moogs tip in closer for a look and he withdraws a pistol, quickly dispatching them. The couple leaves the bodies on the sidewalk for timekeeper Cillian Murphy who warns the crowd to disperse or ‘they won’t have enough time to stand around’. So clever.
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