Monday Morning Review: 'In Time'

Monday Morning Review: 'In Time'

Oct 31, 2011

In Time is infuriating science fiction; not because it's an exceptionally bad piece of science fiction, but because it's a strictly mediocre one. And that's just maddening. It's already rare enough that Hollywood makes an original science fiction movie, it's even rarer that they make high concept sci-fi that doesn't have 1,000 visual effects shots in it. Sure, there are still great sci-fi movies being made independently and released by Hollywood studios - District 9 and Moon being the biggest names of the last few years - but as far as truly original productions go, their development within the studio system. Of course, the rarity of "thinking man's" science fiction in Hollywood is hardly a new trend, nor is it the reason that the newest film from the director of Gattaca isn't great, but it is the reason it's a shame that it's not very good.

In Time's problems are myriad, but they all stem from how basic the movie is. It's about a world where minutes to live has replaced gold-backed monies as the currency of the world. Naturally this type of economy really only effects the disenfranchised, as there are still plenty of rich fat cats with eons on their clock while most people in the ghetto time zones wake up with less time on their clock than there are hours in the day. It's a very thin parable for the world's current financial crisis that amounts to nothing more than the rich get richer by exploiting the poor. How exactly do they exploit the poor? No idea, the movie never really explains that. It's just assumed that the rich are bad because they're rich and wear suits while the poor are good because they've got an indomitable spirit and wear jeans. 

And because the high concept world of In Time is so thin, one is left unfulfilled by all of its inconsistencies and dangling threads. It's a nebulous concept with no real answers as to how this world came to be or how it even continues to function on such a stupid economic system. The only things you see any of the poor people purchase are coffee and bus tickets, so apparently the rich white people are running a highly profitable racket on caffeine and transportation. And if life is so precious in this future, why do people give it away without much thought? Why would anyone buy diamond earrings if it means they might die wearing them? Why would anyone give away 30 minutes of life when they know full well it could easily mean their own death?

It's all just a thin way to say, "What's the deal with rich people, am I right?" Except it's two hours of saying that, so even writer-director Andrew Niccol realizes he can't keep it up for that long, so he turns it into a Bonnie and Robin Hood scenario where stars Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried start robbing time banks, which is a very, very, very easy thing to do, though apparently no one else in the ghetto has the time or foresight to do it because they're too busy buying cups of coffee to fuel the fat cat's nine lives. And there's nothing wrong with this as a plot point, especially since it allows more screen time for Cillian Murphy's Time Keeper, easily the most interesting character in the entire film. But the problem is that their criminal behavior is never thrilling or even interesting, because, again, apparently robbing time banks in an immortal future is easier than riding the bus, as evidenced by Olivia Wilde's inability to ride a bus early on generating the most intense moment of the film.

Timberlake and Seyfried are okay as the kids raging softly against the system, but, as with everything else in In Time, they're just...simple. One could blame their lack of depth on the performances, but the fault lies first and foremost with the characters. They're as poorly realized as the rest of the film's high concept world. They exist as rudimentary pawns to tell a dull story about the need for proper redistribution of wealth. It's not a bad message, and it's certainly a timely one, but what Niccol seems to have forgotten in the time since making Gattaca is that when using science fiction as a means of addressing non-speculative world problems, you need to be specific. You need to flesh out a living, breathing world where everything makes sense within context of everything else. In Time is simply too simple to do that.

Categories: Reviews, In Theaters
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