Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives life by the day – literally. In a society where everyone stops ageing at 25, adults are given one year before their time is up. And it pays to keep count: a cup of coffee costs four minutes and a bus ride costs two hours. Miss something by a second and you die. It’s a great central conceit from Gattaca (1997) director Andrew Niccol, yet his latest film In Time (2011) is far too bogged down in politics.
Ten minutes in, Will meets a guy with a century stamped on his arm. He gives it to Will, but not until he’s delivered a speech about inequality. Why should the rich people in the posh time zones get all the hours? Why not share the seconds with the poor folk in the slums? Can you say ‘credit crunch’ and ‘heavy-handed metaphor’? Andrew Niccol can.
Luckily, things stay exciting for two-thirds of In Time. Amanda Seyfried turns up in a pretty frock as Sylvia Weis, gets kidnapped by Will, and is taken away from her mega-rich father, Philippe Weis (the wonderfully snide Vincent Kartheiser, AKA Pete Campbell from Mad Men). The obvious happens, and soon our couple are off on a Robin Hood-style campaign to tick off the toffs by taking their tocks. All the while, Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) and his band of ‘Timekeepers’ chase them, hoping to rewind the stolen minutes.
Niccol clearly enjoys his dystopian setup, filling it with terrible time puns alongside the usual leather coats, sunglasses and vintage cars. Characters walk in and say things like “Hello, I’m Mr. Rolex”, while the central wealthy hub is neatly called New Greenwich.
Slipping on an expensive suit, Timberlake’s likeable lead fits in nicely. He has good chemistry with Seyfried’s wide-eyed sidekick, as well as Olivia Wilde, who eerily plays his mum – because, of course, all adults look 25 (another undeveloped idea). The action is solid too, thanks to those constant deadlines – against the clock, even Alex Pettyfer’s sleazy thug Fortis is tolerable.
In Time begins to unwind when the script loses track. Small plot holes and stupid dialogue appear, as Niccol focuses too much on his economic parallels. “Do you know how to drive a car?” asks Seyfried, mid-chase. “What’s there to know?” says Timberlake. Something that dumb doesn’t belong in Niccol’s intelligent universe – no wonder Murphy’s clinical Timekeeper looks bored.
Thank goodness, then, for those giant green digital digits. In Time may waste its brilliant concept (as well as its award-winning DoP, Roger Deakins), but that mortal clock never stops counting down. Is the knowledge that the film’s timer will soon run out enough to keep you on the edge of your seat? You have five seconds to decide.