Director Andrew Niccol uses the clichéd idea that time is money to structure a futuristic society in the sci-fi action thriller “In Time,” but fails to make the plot’s initial appeal last.
The film takes place in a future where citizens are allowed to live for free until their 25th birthday, but from then on must earn or steal more time from the government to continue living. After a suicidal stranger gives Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) more than a century’s worth of time, he gives time to the poor who barely survive day-to-day. He then must dodge the corrupt Time Keepers who want to arrest him for upsetting the balance of rich and poor people in society. Despite the inventive plot, the film’s underdeveloped script and the actors’ sub-par performances make it a mildly confusing, mediocre action flick.
The intriguing premise of using time as currency produces a sense of urgency and drama as people must literally run for their lives to buy more time. Niccol uses creative details, such as a cup of coffee costing four minutes, to help make this film’s dystopian world more realistic.
Though clever, the complex plot lacks adequate explanation. In the film, people can give or take time by pressing together digital clocks embedded in their forearms, but the script never explains the details of the clock’s production or purpose. While the government claims the time restriction is used to control the growing population, Niccol never fleshes out why people are continually able to earn or steal unlimited amounts of time rather than being forced to simply live for the shortened time. This makes the already complicated story difficult to follow.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins employs mostly long camera shots, which sometimes help emphasize the importance of every second, but the slow pacing detracts from the urgency of the plot. Additionally, yellow tints are used to produce a sickly color effect that mirrors the unhealthy state of the society. These cinematic elements help establish the oppressive futuristic society by creating a landscape that appears to be run down and lacking natural beauty.
The film’s dialogue, which echoes trite remarks from past action movies such as the 1988 action film “Die Hard,” sci-fi hit “The Terminator” and the James Bond franchise, lacks realism. Salas’ clichéd one-liners fail to demonstrate the dimensionality of his character. Salas speaks in typical I’m-out-to-save-the-world jargon, none of which is original or adds to the dynamic storyline.
Some initially promising relationships fall short, as they lack clarity in the narrative. Though Salas and one of the Time Keepers both grew up in the lower-class neighborhoods, the script fails to capitalize on their similarities.
Niccol alludes to a connection between Salas and his deceased father, who also tried to save the time-deprived, but doesn’t fully develop the story. With this like-father-like-son subplot,
Niccol attempts to give Salas another motive to save the poor or sick, but because it’s not explained, the secondary story fails to add depth and becomes an unnecessary distraction.
Despite an intriguing storyline, “In Time” fails to deliver and may leave viewers thinking this film is a waste of their own time.
“In Time” was directed and written by Andrew Niccol.