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A movie with a name like In Time carries a weighty responsibility. If it disappoints, every review is destined to be rife with insufferable title-related puns.
I can peg the precise moment in the film when I knew which side of the hourglass was filling with sand: When fugitives Will (Justin Timberlake) and Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) breathlessly seek reprieve in a limo, turn on its TV and discover their mugshots, side by side, broadcast on a news channel. Complementing Will’s painfully contrived look of horror, Sylvia chirps, “We look cute together!”
What I’m saying is, you should probably brace yourself for an onslaught of quippy, critical headline play.
Set in a futuristic America where everyone genetically doesn’t age past 25, writer-director Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi thriller is a pertinent, albeit clunky, metaphor for the vast separation between rich and poor. In this world, currency has become time — the privileged can live forever, while the needy live minute to minute. Once the numbers on your neon-green forearm clock zero out, they turn a coal black and you die — pardon me, “time out” — on the spot.
The 20th Century Fox release follows the plight of Will, a poor district-dweller who finds himself gifted with a whopping number of years from Henry (White Collar‘s Matt Bomer), a rich man who’s had enough. Henry’s suicide is wrongfully pegged a time-stealing homicide by “timekeeper” Raymond (Batman Begins‘ Cillian Murphy), and Will is on the run, infiltrating the rich district of New Greenwich (yes, seriously) in an attempt to “Take them for everything they’ve got.”
Will manages to get mixed up with financier Philippe (Mad Men‘s Vincent Kartheiser), who mistakes him as one of his own — or, as he puts it, someone “From time” — and is promptly eye-sexed by Philippe’s pouty, spoiled and bored daughter Sylvia. Will and Sylvia become entangled in what turns into something of a Robin Hood-meets-Bonnie and Clyde tale. Oh, and in case the population-control propaganda wasn’t obvious enough, the duo is also pursued by Fortis (I Am Number Four‘s Alex Pettyfer), a thug who, uninterrupted by authorities, fuels his life with the precious minutes of the poor.
If this all sounds a little confusing, it’s not. In Time is anything but sophisticated, although it tries awfully hard to be. It’s as if someone went through the screenplay, auto-replacing the word “money” with “time.” Or perhaps they were just hoping to beat critics to the punchline. As suspension of disbelief directly correlates to the quality of a film’s writing, once In Time‘s story proved pithy, I found myself quibbling with its details.
For example: If we’re in the future (a place where, apparently, cell phones don’t exist, as evidenced by one very frustrating communication scenario, along with its players’ penchant for haggling via pay phones), why does all of In Time‘s scenery look like present-day America? The various numbered districts (the lower the number, the wealthier the populous) appear to be hybrids of inner-city to upper-class New York, Los Angeles or Chicago cityscapes. Niccol’s Gattaca, this most certainly is not; the transformative sci-fi feel of his previous film is lost in this latest effort.
Or how about the rhetoric? In Time can’t even keep up with its own alternative wordplay: Raymond is referred to as a “timekeeper” by every character but Sylvia, who calls him a “cop.” Not to mention the nagging question of how, exactly, people transfer time to one another. There are moments when characters pronounce an exchange of, say, 30 minutes, grasp forearms and it’s done. At other times, there’s no verbal announcement (so are we to presume a person mentally controls and calculates the intended number?) And what of folks who are robbed of time while unconscious? By the time a pivotal arm-wrestling scene — essentially In Time‘s version of Russian roulette — takes place, you’ve been presented with so many forms of transference you hardly notice the dramatic tension.
Most troubling is the Sylvia-Will dynamic. Both Timberlake and Seyfried have seen better days; here their performances are wooden, their chemistry forced. This is partly because their relationship is hardly fleshed out. As they travel lightning-fast from the aforementioned wistful gazing to something of a Stockholm Syndrome scenario, you seriously have to wonder what the heck our protagonist sees in his cohort. Sylvia is a brat, representing everything Will hates — wealth, ignorance, privilege — and she does little to prove otherwise (unless bravely subjecting her stick-thin legs to marathon bouts of teetering in sky-high heels is considered a vigilante move). Yet, somehow, the turning point in their relationship comes when Sylvia enters Will’s slum of an apartment and breathes, “You must hate me.” He replies, “It’s not your fault what you’re born with.” After an hour of being primed to despise everyone in the upper class, it’s not an easily won exception.
The movie takes a promising idea and buries it beneath a mound of metaphor, unsympathetic characters and played-out tropes. I had hoped for, at the very least, a somewhat mindlessly fun action experience, but I found myself sidelined by the loose ends. I’m sorry to say, In Time was hardly worth mine.
In Time opens today nationwide.