Time is Off

In Time is Off a Couple of Minutes

Growing up, I was never a big fan of Justin Timberlake and N*Sync (although I couldn’t avoid the songs).  However, I have started to appreciate Timberlake’s acting talent after his incredible portrayal of Napster founder, Sean Parker, in The Social Network and strong comedic acting in Friends with Benefits. 

In the new sci-fi film, In Time (originally titled Im.mortal), Timberlake attempts to broaden his acting abilities further in a more dramatic and action-packed venue.  While Timberlake works with what he has, he is unable to resolve a rather dull story about a world where time is literally money and people don’t age past 25 as long as they can afford it. 

In Time follows Will Salas (Timberlake), who lives in the poor part of the city with his mother, Rachel (Olivia Wilde), and works at a factory to earn money/time making cartridges that store time. 

One night at a bar, Will meets Henry Hamilton (Matt Bommer), who has a century’s worth of time and saves Henry from getting killed by local thugs for his chronocurrency.  While hiding out, Will shares a conversation with Henry about life and the cost of living.  When Henry asks Will what he would do with Henry’s years, Will says he wouldn’t waste them.

The next morning, Will discovers Henry has given him his time and left a message that reads, “Don’t waste my time” before Henry dies.  With all this time, Will can finally help his mother and himself get the life they deserve.  When tragedy strikes Will, he travels to New Greenwich, where the rich lives and meets Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of wealthy businessman, Philippe Weis (a dastardly Vincent Kartheiser).

However, at the same time, Will is being hunted down by the police, lead by Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), who believes Will was responsible for Henry’s death.  Soon, Will finds himself on the run and trying to break down the status quo as he develops an attraction for Sylvia on this time sensitive adventure.

It is great to see Timberlake branching himself out yet he doesn’t get the chance to really be an action hero here.  Sure he’s presented with scenes sprinting through cities and deserts, some exciting car chases, and a few close-combat situations that show he can utilize this world, but he deserved more.  Despite his demeanor and style, he appears more like a character in a music video. 

While the ingredients are all there for an action hero, In Time doesn’t give Timberlake the action role he needs like Wanted did for James McAvoy. 

Seyfried, who can usually make her roles interesting, is dreary for most of her introduction.  In fact, when we see Sylvia in her house after her father introduces her, Seyfried makes Sylvia act robotic as do most of the rich in New Greenwich.  It is only when she finds herself robbed of time and living minute by minute that she gives Sylvia depth.

Murphy tries to make the most of his role but just doesn’t give the emotion he’s capable of.  Sure, Raymond Leon is a cold, calculating law enforcer but he should feel human, too.  This isn’t an emotionless world like Equilibrium. 

Certain moments allow Murphy to give Raymond flavor as when he first meets Will and is condescending, but it is not enough.

Writer and director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) has an interesting idea but has trouble keeping it in time (pun intended).  He thrusts the audience into this future but leaves out details.  After 10 minutes, we understand how this world operates but things feel omitted. 

Questions ran rampant through my mind like the year, when did the world change, what happens if you lose an arm, how do people know how much time they spend/share, and how does this clock work? Plus, using time in the vernacular is clever, but gets tiring with lines like: “He timed himself out,” “Crossing time zones,” “I am a timekeeper,” and “Give me some time.”

Yet, Niccol manages to offer some interesting developments even if it doesn’t deter from the film’s glitches.  Since, everyone looks 25 it is hard to know who is young and old.  Some 30-year-old guy at a bar might be hooking up with a 60-year-old woman for all he knows, which is what makes many of the crowd scenes rather fun. 

The writer also recreates arm wrestling to be less about strength and more focused on how far someone can go before their clock stops.  This is done rather nicely when neighborhood thug, Will Fortis (Alex Pettyfer) engages in time wrestling to illustrate this deadly game. 

Niccol’s direction works well when people look at their time and see they only have minutes left to either die or grab time.  A rush of tension and excitement can run through the viewers as the minutes wind down. 

When Will is playing poker and gambles years of his life, the viewer is left on the edge as seconds tick by in their green glow and approach zero.  These scenes are the best of the film and generally capture the feeling Niccol wants the viewer to have of living every second, but it doesn’t last. 

The rest of the film falters around with scenes having either no life or excitement as dialogue drags even when important matters are being discussed.  When Will and Sylvia are sitting in a car after an escape, their love doesn’t flow naturally, their discussion fizzles, and the character development is dense.  Additionally, certain chase scenes involving Will and Sylvia evading the cops through areas like a dessert road or busy city don’t offer the drive they should except for a midnight rooftop pursuit. 

One of the more interesting aspects of In Time is how it appears like a futuristic Bonnie and Clyde, where Will and Sylvia steal time from banks and give to the poor.  Yet, Niccol plays around with this concept but never utilizes it as much as he should with news coverage of the heists and another job teased at the end.  This should have been more of a focus than grabbing a larger prize, which Sylvia’s father holds.

It isn’t hard to see Niccol wants In Time to be an insightful look at humanity in the future via Minority Report and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Cinematographer Richard Deakins helps to develop this cold world and the lighting of gold, swampy green and sterile white define the scenes further. 

However, while Minority Report, A.I., and even Real Steel looked familiar despite being decades into the future, In Time doesn’t have that same quality and breaks the reliability with the audience. Still, the themes of the film do stay in balance including the battle between the rich and poor, overpopulation, and appreciating each second of your life.

After Will finishes playing poker, Sylvia said to him, “Having fun, Mr. Salas?” I would say yes and no since the premise of the film sounds good but In Time doesn’t tick-tock as much as it should.  It made me think this story would have worked better as a video game or comic book where it could take time to explore particular aspects of this futures instead of rushing head first.

PHOTO COURTESY of movies.inquirer.net