Film Review: In Time

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Dead Time

(In Time, Andrew Niccol, US, 2011, 109 mins)

Time is money, you hear that a lot, and it seems said aphorism triggered something in Andrew Niccol’s brain. In any event, he’s built a movie around it. Using an old saying as the conceit for your film is an all in bet; one thinks of that failed blockbuster about the horse that was lead to water for two hours, only to refuse a drink; a reminder that you need more than received wisdom to break a story.

In this febrile financial climate, with scrutinising inequality suddenly back in fashion and the anger directed at the gate keepers of wealth at an all time high, you might think a Bonnie and Clyde riff, with a boy from the ghetto partnering a poor little rich girl to play Robin Hood and put the world to rights, would be timely and satisfying, but you’d be wrong; ten atmospheres of wrong.

This Bonnie and Clyde couldn’t have less on screen chemistry if Clyde was the orangutan from Every Which Way but Loose. The thinking was that Justin Timberlake’s brawn, accentuated with a shaven head and stubble, would, when partnered with Amanda Seyfried’s curves and Disney eyes, produce plenty of on screen sizzle. But the brawn is a personality void while the curves get no more than a minute of screen time, or $4 at the movie’s rate of exchange.

As in Gattaca, Niccol’s other stab at dystopian futurism, there’s an interest in human evolution, genetic engineering and minimalism. Sadly it’s a passing interest. The former two get brushed over while the latter translates to some insipid production design. It seems that variations in colour and architecture are to disappear as humankind becomes more sophisticated, which is counter intuitive, but then so is Niccol’s approach to storytelling; the themes are vague, the motivation of players confused or wishy-washy, and there’s a palpable sense of lethargy.

When a movie’s this inert it had better be a visual feast; composition to engage the brain, dialogue that causes any number of the mind’s bulbs to blow out, but In Time is deathly dull on all fronts; a movie about the rationing of hours and minutes that runs in perpetuity.

Despite a novel, high-concept hook capable of farming plenty of story meat, the film has no ambition, no energy; it’s like a slovenly teenager who sleeps ‘till five in the afternoon and won’t wash. Watch it for too long and you may find toadstools growing from the moist folds on your body.

Timberlake’s Robin Hood mission is tepid stuff. What, in classic actor parlance, is his motivation? The death of his father? His mother? And who cares? The plot is a clumsy grab at the zeitgeist; the haves siphoning off wealth at the expense of the have nots; but when the common man’s champion is as charismatic as brick and the allegorical landscape so bland, it’s a big ask for an audience to feel anything, let alone opprobrium.

Budget limitations take their toll. Niccol’s future looks a lot like present day Los Angeles without the congestion. Technology has clearly advanced in leaps and bounds in the intervening centuries, after all humans can now be engineered to prevent aging, but despite our genius, it seems we can’t build a car that doesn’t look like a 1980s model with silver hubcaps and lights added to the radiator. We know it’s the future because vehicles make a futuristic noise and everything is clean and clinical looking, but such a featureless tomorrow makes you wonder what the point of immortality really is.

Niccol’s direction is pedestrian and his characters do their best to interpret this approach literally; they run slowly between locations. There’s no pace, no kineticism in the camera work or the editing. This is a chase movie without a sense of urgency; that’s like making a comedy with no sense of humour. What, beyond the understandable desire of all concerned to remain employed during an economic downturn, was the point?

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