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Review: In Time (2011)

In Time (2011)

Directed by: Andrew Niccol

Premise: In the future, human beings are genetically engineered to stop aging at twenty-five years and individuals go on living provided that a clock embedded in their arms does not run out. Time is commoditized, ensuring that the rich can live forever while the poor struggle to stay alive. A member of the lower class is accidently given a century worth of time and becomes the target of law enforcement. 

What Works: In Time has a terrific idea, which is important for a science fiction film. The metaphor is fairly obvious but the places it leads to are interesting. The film shows some imagination in dramatizing the metaphor and makes connections between economics, social stratification, and the individual’s ability to survive. The opening is very strong, especially the relationship between Justin Timberlake’s character and his mother, played by Oliva Wilde. Their day to day struggle to make ends meet has a lot of reality to it and is some of the closest that a mainstream Hollywood film has gotten to addressing the issue of poverty.

What Doesn’t: A lot of science fiction films fall into a trap of introducing a great idea for a story but then forgetting to follow through and actually finish designing the story around that idea. And that is exactly where In Time goes wrong. The film introduces a character and gives him a ticket to the upper echelons of society but at that point the film runs out of narrative steam. There is no purpose or goal for the characters to strive for and so the middle of the story has no rising action, just a series of events that have little cause and effect relationship between them, and ultimately no climax. And because the story is so thin, the performances suffer. Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, and Cillian Murphy are very good actors but the film simply does not give them anything to do except run, make on-the-nose leftist political statements, and then run again. No one has any motivation for what they do and the characters do not fundamentally change over the course of the film or face significant challenges to overcome. The political ideas of In Time are also problematic in that they are predictable Hollywood liberalism and like other films with similar agendas, In Time has an oversimplified view of the world and does not address the broader issues of its own metaphor. For instance, if time is money and the unequal distribution of time ensures that it remains cheap, the film ignores some basic economic realities of more equal distribution, namely inflation. Although the film introduces this concept at one point, the script drops it in favor of action set pieces. In Time also never acknowledges the baser implications of the system under which it characters live; it is hard to believe that no one even questions the rightness or wrongness of the economic system that kills people if they run out of time. It isn’t that the film’s heart is in the wrong place, but the storytelling is so flawed and the characters are so bland that is impossible for a viewer to become engaged with the film. This is disappointing given that In Time was written and directed by Andrew Niccol who had previously directed Lord of War. That film, despite its heavy-handed message, was very entertaining and managed to elucidate a political statement while telling a compelling story.

Bottom Line: In Time is a mediocre science fiction film. It has a great idea but that idea is wasted in a plot that goes nowhere, characters that are dull, and a political message that is ridiculously oversimplified.

Episode: #363 (November 6, 2011)