Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried lead Andrew Niccol’s return to sci-fi following stints in the real world with Lord of War and The Terminal and the strength of In Time is a recognisable near future world, given the appropriate Niccol spin. A strength undermined by what can only be a studio insistence on distilling the rich ideas and funneling them through a fairly obvious and pedestrian route.
At one point in time this film was to be called I’m.mortal, an unweidly but unique name which is emblematic of the two roads this film could have traveled down. Setting up a society in which time is currency, with rich and poor demarcated to districts, each living off of what time they can scrape through menial work or what centuries are passed down through wealthy family, is a fairly simple paradigm shift and Niccol’s film works as a thriller, but falls short of giving us anything else. Unlike Gattaca or The Truman Show there’s nothing which creeps under the skin. Replace time with money and the film works just as well, and that’s a missed opportunity.
Timberlake and Seyfried work hard at a script which generates little electricity though Cillian Murphy is a fun, though often it feels like he’s in a different film (Timecop, bizarrely sprang to mind). The incidental stories actually moved me more than the central chase, with Olivia Wilde, as the time troubled mother of Timberlake, Johnny Galecki’s family issues and Matt Bomer’s time-rich catalyst all hitting far deeper emotional beats than our two leads.
Partially it’s the ordinary nature of the story which unfolds, or the resolution which, when it finally comes, feels bereft of catharsis and more like the correct final number in an obvious sequence. The film entertains, there’s n doubt, but offers little for the engaged viewer past the credits which, given the potential of both talent and ideas here, seems a shame. This could have enjoyed the same fate as last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with a blend of science and fiction tied up in a pretty bow of tugged heartstrings, but the connections here are too impermanent and occasionally clumsy.
Like Gattaca the world is a very interesting near future, rendered with a capable hand and an eye for the detail. The green LED imprint on a newborn baby’s arm is a perfect example of the slight twist of our current world, and the ‘four minutes for a cup of coffee’ scene is another, but in the fight against the enforced lifespan countdown isn’t as satisfying as, for example, Logan’s Run which is a film that shares more than a few thematic elements with In Time. There we had the complex moral and religious elements, hidden perhaps, but with the ascension after the age of thirty (via the evil carousel) to a better life the outcome of Logan’s escape and revelation overturns with purpose the oppression which went unquestioned. The same does not happen here.
Instead In Time looks well realised in visual terms and has a conceit which is certainly interesting but falls into a chase movie, with two class-opposed partners (at first reluctant, then they fall in love – that’s not a spoiler) running from plot point to plot point, hammering home the notion that Time is Precious and Oppression is Bad.
As a futuristic action thriller it’s well made and will certainly keep you engaged, recovering from a destabilising pacing issue at the midpoint in which thematic points are underlined unnecessarily, and Niccol’s handling of the future world is as capable as ever. It’s a shame that no risks are taken in the telling of the story and in holding closely to the safety of a well-worn plot we never get too close to the edge.
The Minutes is an oddity, but works in its own way to add a little something to the film in a welcome and diverting manner. This short featurette is a digetic documentary which explains how the scientific breakthroughs allowed the world to become the way it is, and how the present world is set up. It’s a nice piece of background (and is certainly more entertaining than a pre-credits title card explaining how it all happened) and is worth a watch. It’s only when you consider that this fictional documentary crew somehow managed to catch every single important player in the film, no matter how disparate they are in the actual film, and ask them the right questions. It would have worked far better with having none of the actors appearing, but it’s fun to see Cillian Murphy and Justin Timberlake overbake their contributions to the point you start to question if they thought taking part in the documentary was a good idea at all.
There are a few deleted scenes, one in particular called Strip Poker which you have to give credit to Niccol for cutting as it adds virtually nothing other than an excuse to have Amanda Seyfried in her underwear.