The idea is a grand one. In a dystopian world, time is the coveted object which defines every waking moment and every waking decision human beings make. If you have it, you are wealthy, if you do not, you are desperate to acquire it and likely live in a ghetto-state where despair and violence occur in concert with each other. With no existence of currency, goods and services cost time and when you reach the age of 25, you no longer age. A clock, embedded in your left forearm, turns itself on and grants you one year’s time. What you do with that one year is entirely up to you. If you can acquire time, you live longer. If you fail to add time or fall victim to those who covet and seize other people’s time, you may never complete that year you have been genetically modified to receive. This world is the absolute definition of survival of the fittest, no?
“In Time” is the latest science-fiction idea brought to the big screen by writer/director Andrew Niccol, who has travailed across these paths before, exploring the altering and tampering of human genetics in 1997’s “Gattaca”, and astutely hypothesizing on the subtle horrors of the reality television world we now live with everyday in 1998’s “The Truman Show”. With “In Time” however, Niccol is all set up and no execution, delivering a muted and empty, emotionless view into a future that becomes porous to logic and common sense.
Justin Timberlake takes a bit of a career risk here as Will Salas, son of Olivia Wilde (snicker, snicker) and together they are struggling to make ends meet. Isolated in their Time Zone, Will has reached 28 years of life and his mother 50. Life is becoming a little more chaotic and dangerous in their Time Zone and Will is desperate to find a way to break out of his circumstances and provide a better life for himself and his mother. These Zones, numbered 1, 2, 3, 12, etc., require the paying of a time toll to leave and succeeds in perpetuating a classist society where those who have stay in a position to keep having and those who don’t have are cast aside in unsavory and lawless environments.
Other things are in play here contributing to the desperate times Will finds himself in. These time tolls cost more and more each day and inflation is escalating at an alarming rate. A unbridgeable and widening gap exists between those who have and those who have not. Are you tracking with the heavy-handed symbolism here? Good. I am not sure Andrew Niccol thinks you will though.
Kickstarting Will’s story into motion is a chance encounter with a businessman (Matt Bomer) who has attained more than 100+ years in his life. Will shares a drink with him, recognizes that he is in the wrong part of town, and knows that if his clock is discovered, bad things might occur. Will intercepts the businessman, staving off an attack, and offers him seclusion in a vacant warehouse.
The next morning, Will awakens to the realization that the businessman has transferred virtually all of his 100+ years to Will and observes him about to end his life. Regardless of what transpires, Will now has more years than anyone could ever want, donates some to his best friend, and sets out to celebrate his mother’s birthday. However, she is on the other part of town and let’s just say the birthday dinner does not go nearly as Will had planned for it to go.
Andrew Niccol’s film supposes that Will Salas will eventually accept his wealth and go crazy with his new spending power and abilities. We learn some things about our Will Salas that make him appear to be a bit of an empty-headed narcissist. One of his first moves is to be a hideously overpriced sports car. Then, he drives Zone by Zone and sees the world outside of his Zone. Naturally (no…), Will finds an absurdly fancy casino establishment in New Greenwich (Connecticut?) where people bet their lives, literally, with the same plucky enthusiasm as those who frequent casinos in cities big and/or small.
And so I wonder – if time was all you had, why would people play loose and fast with it, especially if you had more than you could ever want? Do the people found in this world desire to leave forever? Can acquiring those years guarantee that? The film never addresses these ideas, things just are they way they are here, so best we move along, I suppose.
Will wastes no time in catching the eye of the casino maven’s daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Will inexplicably gets invited to play at the boss’ exclusive table and dazzles the casino owner (Vincent Kartheiser) by winning a gratuitous amount of years through one hand of high stakes poker. Will loves his new life and is especially smitten with Sylvia but has an epiphany. And that epiphany transitions “In Time” into a Robin-Hood-meets-Bonnie-and-Clyde clusterbomb that is as ambitious as it is flat out ridiculous to watch transpire.
There is no context whatsoever for any of this, and while I could wax downright philosophical about how illogical all of this is, I’ll leave my complaints there. This world is not a world of people making any cogent thoughts or decisions. I have yet to even mention The Timekeepers, the police force charged with ensuring civility, essentially defer to brute force to accomplish their goals. And that springs to mind countless unresolved questions that either Niccol ignores here on purpose, forgot to address, or never even thought of in the first place.
Are we in a state of martial law? What is the government doing to combat the problems facing more and more Zone residents? Is there even a government? Who is raising the costs of living so high that people must kill to acquire any forward progression in life? How are social services funded and paid for? Do people get sick? Are AIDS, cancer, and debilitating human maladies present in this world? Does more time make you stronger and more healthy than those whose time is running out? Why are the poor folks viewed as so unable to keep and possess time? How were these people segregated and why?
Why is the clock green? How were people modified over time to have these internal clocks? Do they ever malfunction? Has anyone died at birth? Has anyone lived past their bonus year without acquiring time? Does the clock apparatus ever become infected? When does Justin Timberlake have the time or energy to develop a chiseled 6-8 pack of abs and no body fat whatsoever? With Olivia Wilde as his mom…I mean…has he ever thought about…ahem… Nevermind.
That I concocted more than a dozen logical and goofy questions while watching “In Time” says everything you may ever need to know about whether this film works or not. Some may think that “In Time” would still remain mindlessly entertaining and fun, except much of the film is so joyless and inert that it flat out numbs you into boredom.