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“In Time” is worth the time… for sci-fi fans only

Posted on November 15th, 2011
Posted on November 15th, 2011

by Coop Cooper

The concept of “In Time” would grab most sci-fi fans immediately. A reworking of the old “Logan’s Run” story, it takes place in a world where overpopulation has pushed society to the breaking point. As a measure of control, people are genetically engineered to live only to the age of 25. After that, they must earn more time in order to increase their (literal) biological clock to continue living. Time is subtracted when you need to pay for things like rent or a cup of coffee. The rich can live forever, frozen at 25 years old. The poor must fight for survival every single day. To make matters worse, time can be taken away by force.

Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is a working-class guy with a matter of days left on his clock and his mother (the ironically young and beautiful Olivia Wilde) hides the fact that she has even less. One night he saves the life of a rich, suicidal 105 year old (Matt Bomer) with thousands of years left on his clock from a band of “Minutemen” gangsters. As a parting gesture, the man commits suicide by transferring all of his years to Will. While this makes Will rich, it also makes him a murder suspect. With “Timekeeper” cops (lead by Cillian Murphy) on his trail, Will sets off on a reckless spending spree in order to shake up the system which has brought his life so much misery. When the cops catch up with him, he takes a bored, rich “time heiress” (Amanda Seyfried) hostage.

The performances were corny. Nobody is going to love Timberlake or even Seyfried in this one, but they might identify with their characters because of the difficult choices they must make. Only Cillian Murphy as a dogged and unbendable timekeeper gets to chew the scenery. Something tells me he based his performance on Tommy Lee Jones’ Oscar-winning role as a U.S. Marshall in “The Fugitive.” Murphy isn’t as good as Jones, but he is easily the most interesting character in the movie.

This story introduces some fascinating conceptual innovations: Nearly everyone carries their net worth on them at all times. In poker matches, going “all-in” is fatal. Figures of speech like “clocking out,” “got a minute?” and “time share” take on new meanings. Cops are only allowed to keep one day of time on them in order to ensure their safety on the streets. If you get killed prematurely your time dies with you, meaning no inheritance (this also makes handgun murders counterproductive for thieves). There’s even a strange arm-wrestling version of Russian Roulette desperate citizens play with their clocks.

In Time” gives you so much to think about, immersing the audience so effectively into its world, it makes you wonder if the creators could have told the story without the tongue-in-cheek tone. Despite its silly moments, it shares a lot with sci-fi films like “Escape from New York” (1981), “Equilibrium” (2002), “Gamer” (2009), “Repo Men” (2010) and “Inception” (2010). These often brilliant films specialized in exploring completely unrealistic dystopian societies to remind the audience about the best qualities of humanity. “In Time” shares this morality tale format, illustrating the idea that time is precious and no one is meant to live forever. However, in the second half it lapses into a class-struggle theme which many would deem ideologically partisan in this current sociopolitical climate. Some might find that aspect of the film off-putting.

I would have preferred it if “In Time” had kept the somber, self-reflective tone it began with. It missed the opportunity to rise above the polarizing “down with the rich” idea and stay with the more human story of immortality vs. self sacrifice. A cheesy Bonnie and Clyde action storyline might sound more attractive to the Hollywood bean counters; but in reality, witnessing someones clock tick down to nothing is a sad and horrifying experience. Nevertheless, it is compelling and will certainly get people talking after the final credits roll.

In Time” was almost brilliant… until Hollywood got in the way.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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