With Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer; Running Time: 109 minutes; Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; Rated PG-13 (for violence, some sexualty and partial nudity, and strong language)
You’ve heard the expression that “time is money?” In Andrew Niccol’s IN TIME, the writer of “The Truman Show” and writer/director of “Gattaca” and “S1m0ne” makes that literal. Like his earlier movies, it asks viewers to buy into the premise of the film’s world and be willing to explore. Those who make the deal will find a cool, cerebral and very disturbing film.
This is a near-future world where everyone ages until they are 25 and then they stay that young forever. The catch is that at that point their bodies activate an internal clock – with a readout on their forearm – giving them one more year. To get anything in this world costs time, and only by obtaining more time can you stay alive. Barring accident or murder, it is theoretically possible to live forever, unless you “time out.” When you clock runs down to all zeroes, you die.
Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is a blue collar worker who rarely has more than a day’s worth of time. Then a mysterious stranger who is over 100 and is tired of living gives Will a century’s worth of time. Will, who has seen his own mother “time out,” decides he’s going to share this gift in order to challenge the system. He heads to New Greenwich, where the wealthy people with centuries of time on their hands live, and meets Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser). It is a party at the Weis estate that the Timekeepers show up, those who enforce the rules of this society, and who decide that Will must have stolen the time he has.
This sets in motion a chase with Will escaping custody, taking Weis’s daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) as a hostage, and Timekeeper Leon (Cillian Murphy) hot on his trail. As Sylvia comes to understand that most people live hour-to-hour, day-to-day, she comes to realize the inherent corruption of the system that supports her family and the other elites. Will and Sylvia start robbing time banks to distribute the spoils to the masses, disrupting the basis of the whole economy. Drawing on movies like “Gun Crazy,” “Thieves Like Us” and, of course, “Bonnie and Clyde,” Niccol gives us a combination crime spree/love story.
Those who get caught up in the details of the plot will miss the real point of the movie. It’s the metaphor of time for money that matters, as it plays out in a battle between the haves and have nots – or, if you’d like, the 1% vs. the 99% – making this an incredibly timely film. While “Gattaca” was a bit ahead of its time with its concerns with genetics determining our fates, “In Time” is the perfect movie for the moment. People whose eyes glaze over at terms like “housing bubble” and “hedge fund” will instantly understand the sort of manipulation protecting the “haves” that goes on here. Poor people are getting more time? Fine, let’s raise the cost of everything so that inflation erases the value of any of their gains.
Justin Timberlake, coming off solid performances in “The Social Network” and “Friends With Benefits” is proving to be an interesting actor. He gives us a character who had tried playing by the rules but now can’t take it anymore. Amanda Seyfried is still hit-or-miss as an actress, but finds the right notes for the spoiled rich girl who comes to see what the real world is like.
Love it or hate it, “In Time” raises the sorts of questions that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are asking. Just whose time is it anyway?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.