“For a few to be immortal, many must die.” And therein lies the premise of In Time, a film written and directed by Andrew Niccol (who also brought us Gattaca and The Truman Show.)
Here’s the setup: it is late 21st Century and the human race is genetically engineered to stop ageing at 25 and are given one more year to live unless they have “replenished” their clocks. In this world, the currency of exchange is time – you literally trade for more time on this earth. Everyone is born with a clock (it’s digital, if that helps) on their left forearm and you “transact” on your right.
In this world, time zones are literally geographic areas that determine how long you have to live. In Dayton (the “ghetto”), the average life expectancy for its occupants is 23 hours compared to that of New Greenwich (where the rich live) of 347 years. The rich can earn decades at a time, effectively making them immortal, while the poor do whatever it takes to survive from day to day. To keep the ghetto-dwellers from earning their way out of their time zones, the rich drive up the cost of living essentially making it impossible for them to move outside their borders.
When a man, Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), with 116 years on his clock turns up at a bar in Dayton flashing his arm around (equivalent of someone flashing his Platinum Amex) buying drinks for everyone, it is no surprise that the Minutemen (gangs of time thieves), led by Fortis (Alex Pettyfer), turn up to help relief Hamilton of his burden.
At the same bar are Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) and his friend Borel (Johnny Galecki). Salas rescues Hamilton from the Minutemen and is then told some home-truths about how the rich are controlling the world. When Hamilton is found dead the next morning after giving his time away, Will becomes the prime suspect and is hunted down by the Timekeepers – the law enforcers who consider stealing time the ultimate crime.
Driven by the loss of his mother, Rachel (Olivia Wilde), on her 50th birthday and now armed with 116 years on his clock, Will sets out to New Greenwich determined to find the truth and take down the rich. He meets Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), a man whose name is on every building in the country. With nearly 10,000 years on his clock, Weis is essentially immortal.
At a party thrown by Weis, Will meets his daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). When the Timekeepers, led by Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) catches up with Will, he escapes by taking Sylvia hostage and go on the run. Considered reckless by her father, Sylvia understands that “the poor die, and the rich never live” and quickly becomes Will’s accomplice.
When every second counts, it is no surprise that those who live in Dayton are always running somewhere and doing everything really fast, whereas those in New Greenwich, with all the time in the world, are only concerned with “accidental death”.
Will’s ransom demand is simple – give a thousand years to the poor in Dayton and Sylvia would be returned. Instead of meeting the demand for fear of “too much time in the wrong hands” crashing “the system”, the Timekeepers track down Will and Sylvia and the pair become the country’s “Most Wanted” with a bounty on their heads. Along the way, our Robin Hood and his Maid Marian begin hitting banks and distributing the stolen time to the poor.
Cinematically, Andrew Niccol created a world, much like he did for Gattaca and The Truman Show, which is familiar yet different. There are no space suits or flying cars (although there are a lot of very cool cars in this movie); people still work, eat, gamble and fall in love. There is a lot of running and a lot of car chases, making this quite a thrilling action movie.
Plot-wise, the idea of rich versus poor is not new, although the concept of time as the only form of currency, gives us a little more food for thought when you literally have to think twice about whether or not you can afford that extra cup of coffee.
There is no doubt In Time is all about Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. Timberlake’s big screen star continues to rise and he does not disappoint in this role. However, it is the supporting cast that really impresses. Cillian Murphy’s (last seen in Inception) performance as the determined yet sympathetic Timekeeper is spot on and offers some hints of Will’s back story.
Although better known for their small-screen roles, the combined forces of Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men), Olivia Wilde (House), Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory) and Matt Bomer (White Collar), make you wish they had more screen time. Each of their characters is reflective of a lesson we can learn about our society – greed, unconditional love, addiction and hopelessness.
There are no real answers offered by Niccol to the questions he raised about our society and the way we live. But you’ll have a damn good time going on the run with Will and Sylvia.