Monday, 16 July 2012
In Time (2011)
There's an awful lot to like about Andrew Niccol's 2011 film "In Time", starring Justin Timberlake, Cillian Murphy and Amanda Seyfried. So much in fact that it's a real shame that overall it is simply good, rather than great.
Set in an alternative reality where time is currency and a missed quota at work is likely to be fatal, Timberake's Will Salas lives day to day, scraping by on work in a factory and putting up with an ever rising cost of living. One advantage (for the film makers at least) is that everyone stops aging once they hit 25, remaining young and fit for as long as they can keep the clock on their wrists ticking.
Will's hard fought existence is turned upside down by 24 hours in which he is gifted a century of time by a man who has lived longer than Will could imagine and has run out of reasons to go on. He also offers an explanation that the rich live for as long as they want in other districts of the sprawling city, happy to let the poor live, work and die while they party and enjoy near immortality.
After tragedy befalls Will he decides to use this new gift of time to attack the system from within, buying his way into high society life. Once in however the film shifts from a potentially very interesting political debate dressed up in science fiction trappings to a more generic, though well done, action thriller with car chases, shoot outs and dramatic make out sections. Will and his new flame Sylvia, a bored daughter of an extremely wealthy socialite, begin to attempt to redistribute the time, all the while pursued by a relentless 'Timekeeper' (the consistently impressive Cillian Murphy) and discovering the lengths people will go to protect a system they've rigged to benefit them.
It is sci-fi for the Occupy age, a barely veiled rant against the injustices of the capitalist system and it is the political subtext to the film, where it occasionally stumbles. By trying to argue through Seyfried's character Sylvia, that the rich live empty, unhappy lives and are in some ways jealous of the poor, the writer and director Andrew Niccol probably aimed to show how the system makes everyone suffer to some degree. Instead it presents the viewer with the choice of either Sylvia being a spoilt rich girl more interested in the excitement and danger than the cause, or the borderline immortal wealthy actually being almost pitiable, so greedy they make themselves miserable. The moral ambiguity may be deliberate, but if so it needed to be handled with a more skilled hand, as too many characters flit between unrepentantly evil and trapped by a system.
The worst culprit for the uncertain and under developed political message of the film is Murphy's detective/timekeeper Raymond Leon. This character has the potential to be more complex than any other, a potential bridge between the two elements of society, with a past and moral code that is hinted at but never fully explored and that is a shame, because there was potential in him.
The political aspect is also slightly flawed in that their is effectively no explanation given as to what the alternative is in this reality, where an early death is near inevitable for all but those born into wealth. The decision to redistribute the time is undoubtedly born out of noble intent, but Will does not take on a role of leadership or present a new plan. Perhaps Niccol was happy to settle for the worthy message of self-determination and there is nothing wrong with that, but when I (a sci-fi loving borderline socialist) sit down to a film that focuses on the issues of rampant capitalism and the brutal realities of class inequality, I hope for a more complex take on it than the rich are bad and the poor trapped and doomed.
Now these are very subjective criticisms, ones that will bug me far more than they may others, but all good science fiction is judged on how it uses an alternate or future reality to challenge the issues of the present and with "In Time", Niccol touched upon some fascinating questions without ever really coming close to answering them.
For a moment taking away the politics, it must also be said that while good, none of the action sequences are all that remarkable and some elements of the script are also a little laboured.
However as I said in the introduction, this is a good film, with the majority of my complaints stemming more from what it could have been than what it is. There are some great elements to this dystopian take on Robin Hood, with a terrifying take on arm wrestling and a very literal version of gambling your life away.
The film is accompanied by an engaging score from Craig Armstrong ('Love Actually' and 'Moulin Rouge') which in places is reminiscent of one of my favourite film scores, that of Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine', composed by his regular collaborator, John Murphy.
Go in expecting a dramatic thriller with solid performances from Timberlake (he's making a habit of this now, would not have expected that a few years ago) and Seyfried and an agreeable if simplistic message then you will probably be pleased with what you see.
A promising concept coupled with a well executed action thriller provide an entertaining, if occasionally underwhelming experience.