“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Shakespeare’s words ring literally true in Andrew Niccol’s cinematic marriage of 'Bonnie and Clyde' with 'Robin Hood.'
'In Time' takes place in a future where physical aging has been genetically altered to end at 25. At that time, a year begins to count down on your arm. When your time runs out, you die. If you can earn or steal more time, you can extend your life infinitely. In this world, people are divided in time zones based on their wealth, and Timekeepers – half cop, half agents of order – ensure that no one breaks the rules and advances illegally.
[youtube fdadZ_KrZVw nolink]
Justin Timberlake plays Will, a struggling factory worker who has been gifted over a century of time by Henry (Matt Bomer), a man who has grown tired of living. With his new wealth and knowledge, Will goes to New Greenwich, the lap of luxury, intent on stealing time from the wealthy to distribute to the masses – time that has been stolen from them through manipulated markets that ensure the rich earn more time while the poor continually struggle to make it through each day. There, he meets Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of Philippe ('Mad Men's' Vincent Kartheiser), who owns an eternity of time. When Timekeepers track Will to New Greenwich and try to arrest him for supposedly stealing the minutes and murdering Henry, he kidnaps Sylvia and goes on the run, racing against not only the Timekeepers but a dwindling clock.
Niccol both wrote and directed the film. There’s been some scandal over whether the premise was his or borrowed from a short story, but I’m inclined to believe it’s originally his. He has a history of writing provoking films, including 'Gattaca,' 'Lord of War' and 'The Truman Show.' Regardless of where it came from, 'In Time' is an intriguing and generally well-crafted story.
The film has a timeless aura, amplified by cars and clothes that could fit as easily in the 1920s as the 2010s. The story takes time to develop, and it matures along the way, as does Timberlake’s acting. Seyfried deserves kudos for taking the cliché role of a sheltered heiress and turning her into a sexy Patty Hearst-Bonnie Parker sidekick. Kartheiser is basically himself from 'Mad Men,' but wealth suits him, and he’s a good choice to play the villain.
The best character in the story is the Timekeeper Raymond (Cillian Murphy), whose unflinching dedication to his job, like that of Inspecter Javert in 'Les Miserables,' drives the film. Murphy is not the creepy Scarecrow here; instead he’s obsessed with the status quo.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the basic political thrust of the film. The rich have gamed the system and the poor can’t survive in it. The mantra of the upper class is a Darwinian one – the many must die so the few may live forever. Will’s response is simple: If even one must die, then none should live forever. Accepted at its face value, the film seems to assert the liberal notion that we need to spread the wealth around because greedy corporations are hogging it all. In the film though, time is a finite, scarce resource. There’s a limited amount of it, and so letting anyone live forever means that many must suffer because of it. But with wealth, there’s no need for others to suffer, because wealth is generated through work, not just redistributed.
Then there’s Levi (August Emerson), a priest who runs a time bank where he literally gives his time away to those who need it. He’s the moral compass of the film, showing that good people exist in this dog-eat-dog future, and he also serves as Will’s Friar Tuck, his point-main in distributing stolen time to the needy.
Coupled with the fact that the film doesn’t really address whether it’s a one-world government or a series of businesses running the time-stealing scam, the film’s political message is cloudy. In the end, it’s really just a decent story that you can either discuss with your friends long after or simply write off as time that was – for the most part – well spent.