Thursday, March 22, 2012

Far Too Smart For The General Populace, In Time Is Deeply Satisfying Drama!

The Good: Theme, Plot, Acting, What elements of character there are
The Bad: Little weaker on character than I would like, Suspension of disbelief issues.
The Basics: In Time is the logical successor to V For Vendetta, adeptly disguising many of the same themes in a powerful, anti-capitalist film.

There are few movies I missed in theaters last year that I actually missed more than In Time. I had managed not to hear anything about it somehow, but my wife brought it to my attention. She said I would probably like it because the previews made it look smart. When I started seeing the advertisements, I agreed; it looked smart. It was only in theaters locally for about two weeks because it was too smart for most audiences. So, last night when my wife and I sat down to watch the film, I was prepared for a smart science fiction film that I had been anticipating for some time.

I was not disappointed. The best compliment I can give In Time is this; I have been ill lately and falling asleep before midnight most nights, usually while watching something I like and I am actually trying to stay awake through. I had no problem staying awake through In Time. In Time is like a smart version of Repo Men (reviewed here!) where the organ market is replaced by units of time. In Time is like V For Vendetta (reviewed here!) without the level of oppression that makes one want to kill themselves pretty much the entire time they are watching the movie.

Will Salas is a day to day worker living in a future where everyone is programmed to die within a year of turning twenty-five. Most people, like Will and his friend Borel, work each day to earn a little more time to keep themselves alive just a little longer. When Will’s mother dies on her fiftieth birthday after paying off the last of her debts, Will is shocked and hurt. That does not stop him from helping out a man who ends up in a bad neighborhood with a century on his arm clock. Protecting Henry Hamilton earns Will the man’s respect . . . and his century. Ready to die, Henry gives Will his time, watches one last sunrise and dies.

This sets off a fantastic chain of events for Will that puts him on a collision course with the Timekeeper Raymond Leon and the wealthy Sylvia Weis. Leon comes looking for the missing time that Henry had and he begins a relentless pursuit of Will. Will, for his part, gives Borel a decade, then flees the slums for a neighboring district. There, Will lives the good life, gambling his way up to more time than he ever thought he would need, while attracting the attention of Sylvia, the daughter of the main time banker (and bad gambler), Philippe. Raymond takes all but two hours of Will’s time, as it was “stolen property” and in a moment of desperation, Will flees with Sylvia to try to get more time. As Will flees with Sylvia, they bond and rise up against the system that has oppressed so many.

In Time is one of the most preachy movies of late that does not feel like it is simply preaching to the viewer. Instead, it is solidly entertaining, clever and well-developed. In fact, the only real critiques I have for it are that it is a little low on character and it requires far too much suspension of disbelief at key moments. On the character front, neither Will nor Sylvia ever seem passionate enough about anything. As a result, Will does not seem truly crushed by his mother’s death and when he learns Borel’s fate, it does not set him back emotionally in any recognizable way. Similarly, Sylvia has led a very sheltered life and once Will opens her to how the other half lives, she stops reacting with much real emotion. Shocked when her father does not offer up any time to save her life, she quickly leaps over traditional Stockholm Syndrome to simply take up Will’s cause with him. That seemed a little far-fetched for my tastes.

The only other aspect I could not buy were the moments that required suspension of disbelief. No, the premise of In Time is fine; I can completely invest myself in a world where traditional capitalism has been replaced with time for life. That’s fine. The problem comes in moments like the one where Will has twenty seconds left to live and has to run about two hundred meters uphill to a car to access an account (that is not his) in order to live. That sort of thing completely floored me as being utterly unrealistic. If he had even forty seconds, I could have bought it, but the sheer number of times characters are down to their last few seconds and manage to get a time infusion is just utterly unrealistic.

Even so, In Time is a must-see. The film is smart and it manages to be a soaring indictment of capitalism without ever making the relationship between money in the real world and time in the film’s world explicit. In Time does not insult the viewer’s intelligence, which is very refreshing. In a similar way, no one ever makes an allusion to Inspector Javert when Raymond Leon is hunting Will.

In addition to looking phenomenally good, In Time is incredibly well-acted. How Cillian Murphy did not garner more attention as Raymond Leon is absolutely beyond me. In In Time, Murphy is determined, analytical and efficient in a way that he plays completely different from his characters from Batman Begins, Red Eye or Inception. Instead, Murphy channels Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive in embodying an officer of the law who is all-business. Murphy’s set jaw and unblinking eyes help create a character the audience credibly believes could be the end of Will Salas.

Justin Timberlake does astonishingly well as Will Salas. Timberlake manages to never be over-the-top and in the moment when he pulls a gun on several thugs and gets out from under the local mob, he is truly, 100% badass. Timberlake makes Salas cool and part of the coolness comes from his articulation. Timberlake makes Will Salas a smart, strangely ethical rebel hero who captivates the viewer from start to finish. Amanda Seyfried, who looks pretty amazing with short red hair, holds her own, though her character is not given as much to do as I would have suspected from the advertising campaigns. That said, Seyfried plays a smarter character than her usual role and it is refreshing to see how adeptly she pulls it off.

The supporting cast of In Time is equally noteworthy. Johnny Galecki makes for a sympathetic sidekick in Borel and Olivia Wilde makes decent use out of her brief role as Will’s mother, Rachel. Because the film’s premise demands a young cast, good-looking Hollywood types like Alex Pettyfer and Jessica Parker Kennedy are pretty much the norm. The real shout out for the supporting cast has to go to Vincent Kartheiser. Kartheiser took a lot of crap when he appeared in the third and, especially, fourth seasons of Angel. Written off by many as just a young hunky guy brought in to raise the sagging ratings, Kartheiser was treated worse by fans than Michelle Tractenberg was. In In Time, Kartheiser plays Philippe and he is the embodiment of the powerful capitalist. His role of Philippe has much of the same gravitas as Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko. Seriously. He is that good.

On the basic DVD, In Time comes only with a handful of deleted and extended scenes. In Time is PG-13 and it makes good use of its one use of the f-word, though I imagine it would be easy for an unrated version to be released that included a more graphic representation of Will’s getaway from the time gang. That said, director Andrew Niccol does a decent job of creating a vivid and engrossing world and film. Like V For Vendetta, I find myself ultimately more disappointed in the audiences than the filmmaker. In Time did not lead to an uprising, so clearly its statement was lost on much of the audience.

For other movies that capture well a dystopian future, be sure to check out my reviews of:


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed.

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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