Film review: In Time (2011)

Director: Andrew Niccol

Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy

Year: 2011

What would you do if you knew when you were going to die? How would you spend your last few days or last few hours?

These are some of the questions at the center of In Time, an existential thriller that takes place in a futuristic California where time is the new currency and bus fares cost 2 hours of your life.

Our protagonist, Will Salas, unevenly played by Justin Timberlake lives in a run-down district named Dayton. On his left arm, and that of everybody else, there is a timer, counting down the days, hours and minutes he has left to live. Through work he survives, day by day, too busy trying to stay alive to have any time to enjoy life and get himself a girlfriend as his mother urges him to.

The world of In Time is supported on long-standing inequalities, crimes and injustices. While a few have access to an inordinate amount of time which, in theory, grants them immortality, the majority lead a meager existence where death is always looming and opportunities to live longer are only available to those who get away with crimes.

Despite an auspicious start rooted on a strong original concept, the film suffers throughout due to poor sequencing, lackluster action, tacky dialogue, flat humor and poor acting. Writer and director Andrew Niccol shows such a fascination with his own concept that he forgot to make a film around it, touching upon a strong idea only superficially, never quite managing to give it the emotional power that it could have had.

In contemporary sci-fi films, audiences have come to expect movie-makers to construct, at the very least, believable alternate realities that seem plausible after a film asks us to take a few leaps of faith. The problem with In Time is that sub-par acting and a few loose ends in the plot become so noticeable that they don’t allow us to embrace the sci-fi construct.

If In Time wanted us to believe in a future where control of the masses is basic to the survival of the system, then the tools through which said control is asserted must be as believable and consistent as possible. How can we expect to believe the majority live day to day if the instrument of control, the time keepers, cannot cope with a couple of time-bandidos that cross the time zones (another instrument of control) without much effort?

The feeling is that In Time had the potential to explore some very interesting questions about humanity, existence and mortality, instead it becomes a dumb down cat-and-mouse 90 min long persecution that sticks to Hollywoodesque formulas.

Rating: 1.5/5 (bad)

Coming up in the Blog of Big Ideas: the review of a fan of Alien on Prometheus; a review of the challenging and ambitious Tree of Life, almost a year later after its release; a review of L.A. Confidential.

6 thoughts on “Film review: In Time (2011)

  1. I was really looking forward to this one. Well, maybe not really. But I was definitely looking forward to it because of Andrew’s previous work – Gattaca, which I absolutely adore.

    The cast is insanely pretty and that’s about it. Justin Timberlake was no where near strong enough to hold the film together. There were some entertaining ideas and thoughts, but it just didn’t really come together. Definitely agree with your rating.

    On the plus side – you can have an epic drinking game while watching this film. Drink whenever anyone mentions/puns upon a unit of time.

  2. Ouch! I agree w/ your points though I was a bit more generous (I gave it a 3 out of 5) maybe because I like the concept. You’re right though it could’ve been sooo much better and I think under a more capable director it could’ve been a classic.

  3. Yeah, mostly reviews have been negative towards “In Time”. A pity, as Gattaca (1997) was a fine sci-fi film by Andrew Niccol . I have to admit Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried have not been offered the best material of late, so I don’t have high hopes for their output.

    Looking forward to your Prometheus and Tree of Life reviews!

  4. Well, they can’t expect to be given great material given their limited resume, especially in the case of the former member of N’Sync.
    I don’t know exactly what happened to Andrew Nicool because to go from Gattaca to In Time is a major step down that could end your career. Maybe there were budgetary constraints? Or the schedule was rushed?

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