In Time is a very middling sort of film. It toes the line of what exactly constitutes an Unpopularity Content review, although ultimately, I decided that its score of 53 on Metacritic was enough to push it just over the edge. Make no mistake, though, critics weren’t overly impressed.
In Time is a film built around an intriguing premise – humans stop aging at 25, but only have one more year to live. Time is currency, and people earn more each day, but for those living in the slums, this means literally living day to day, sometimes with only seconds to spare. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), is one such unfortunate, living in the “ghetto” and scraping enough time for himself and his mother (Olivia Wilde) to get by.
However, when Will meets a mysterious man with over a century on his clock, he makes the noble decision to protect him from Minutemen – a gang of time-stealing thugs – thus setting him on a path that sees him undergo a mission with heiress Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) to topple the system of oppression that keeps his friends and family struggling to survive, all while being hunted by relentless Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy).
In some ways, it’s an incredibly detailed and intricate story, and in others, its a laughably (and depressingly) transparent examination of the natural progression of the capitalist mentality. In terms of concept, it’s certainly a throwback to the Golden Age of sci-fi fiction – so much so, in fact, that the legendary Harlan Ellison mistakenly believed the film to have plagiarised some of his work (it’s a far less interesting story than it sounds, and he ultimately backed down).
In Time does its best to be sleek and innovative, although for all its sheen, its thinly veiled allegory comes across as more than a little heavy handed. Don’t get me wrong, I entirely agree with the sentiment, but as the film went on, it abandoned all pretext of subtlety and instead proceeded to beat us over the head with its “rich = bad” message, and this effectively negated all the work it had done to establish itself as high-concept sci-fi.
In Time does do more than a few things right, though. Its visuals – particularly its set design and retro-futuristic aesthetic – set it apart from many of its sci-fi contemporaries. This is in part due to its reluctance to rely on CGI for its effects, because on the occasion that CGI is used, it’s noticeably awful (there’s a car crash scene that looks like something a twelve year old animated in his bedroom). There is, at least, an overall style to the film that remains consistent even after all else begins to unravel.
The film’s central performances are passable, although as the story reaches its crescendo (around the same time that the plot begins to go off the rails, actually) the dialogue begins to hold the actors back, with Timberlake, Murphy and Seyfried each delivering lines that sound as though they were spat out by an AI dialogue generator.
I’ll finish up, because I feel like I’m just bashing In Time now, and honestly, I don’t mean to. Its story throwing away its potential is a little disappointing, although it does at least try to be thought provoking, and that’s certainly worth a few points. While the film lacks consistency, it’s still an entertaining and gripping watch – it relies on concept, rather than action, to drive the story forward, and that alone is commendable for modern sci-fi.
Don’t expect high art, but if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, you could certainly do worse.
Summary: A solid concept delivered with conviction, In Time falls apart as it goes along, with its wonky dialogue and unrealistic character arcs being held together by its premise and its on-screen talent alone. Ultimately, it’s a jumble of premise and style that rests just a little too much on its laurels.
Highlight: The concept of time as currency translates well to the screen, with richer characters taking their time to do things as slowly as possible to display their wealth. It’s a subtle yet realistic flourish that lends the film an added depth.