Friday, November 11, 2011

'Time'ly science fiction

Writer/director Andrew Niccol is a dangerous man in Hollywood. He makes movies about ideas and forces his audience to think. His latest film “In Time” is set in a world in which time literally is money and uses this allegory to comment on the current state of the economy.
“In Time” is set in a future, or perhaps parallel universe, in which all people have been genetically altered to not age past 25. The catch is you are given only one more year to live and you must work, steal, beg or borrow more time to continue living. The rich are essentially immortal whereas the poor literally live day to day and often second to second. 
Niccol does a terrific job fully fleshing out and running with this idea. Characters have a glowing green time code on their forearm clicking off the time that remains. People can loan time by holding each other’s wrists. Time has replaced currency. A cup of coffee costs four minutes. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression: What’s it worth to you? The premise also makes things more urgent. When you’re out of money it may not be the end of your life, but in Niccol’s world if you’re out of time, you’re dead.
This is a brilliant concept for a piece of science fiction, but when Niccol set out to make “In Time” I doubt he realized how timely the film would actually be. Niccol’s film directly addresses many of the same issues at the center of the Occupy movement.
The star of the film is Justin Timberlake, who has done the rare feat of transitioning from pop star to a movie star with genuine acting ability. His character, Will Salas, is a laborer who lives with his mother (Olivia Wilde) and they barely can make it to the next day.
Will meets Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) who has lived 102 years and has another century to go. Henry no longer wants to live, and, sensing Will is a good man, gives his remaining time to him. He also lets Will in on a little secret that “for a few immortals to live, many people must die.” The system is staked to ensure that enough people die off so there isn’t over population while the rich live forever.
With this new-found time, Will is allowed into a different “time zone” for only the wealthy, but it also gets the attention of the Time Keepers led by Cillian Murphy. These new form of police make sure that time remains in the right hands and believe that Will murdered Henry.
Now on the run, Will kidnaps Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), an adventure-seeking heiress, and the film essentially becomes “Bonnie and Clyde” meets “Robin Hood” with Will and Sylvia stealing time from her father’s banks and giving it to the poor.
 After establishing the universe and rules, the film settles into a more traditional action movie with car chases and gun fights. These scenes are slick and well produced and flow naturally from the plot rather than just being arbitrary. There are enough quiet moments that allow for tough moral questions to be asked.
Perhaps the best scene in the film is a high-stakes poker match in which being all in means your life is on the line. There is also a similar, but less effective, to-the-death arm-wrestling match.
The premise also allows for a youthful cast. Apparently in this world, in addition to not aging passed 25, you also remain thin and attractive. Timberlake makes a viable thinking-man’s action hero and does continue to prove his acting chops. He does have one unfortunately laughable crying scene, but the guy has real screen presence and that’s something you can’t fake.
Seyfried is a good and appealing actress who is given an underwritten role. She is only here to serve one purpose: fall in love and aid the hero. Her character does have some arc going from a rich girl to a rebel overthrowing the system, but, ironically, there’s not enough time given to show this transition. Even so Seyfried does what she can with the role and Timberlake and Seyfried make an appealing couple.
Murphy is essentially the Tommy Lee Jones character from “The Fugitive” and he does the dogged, hardened-cop role well. He brings a stoic intensity to the character.
Much like “Gattaca,” which Niccol also wrote and directed, and his screenplay for “The Truman Show,” Niccol uses his sci-fi premise to comment on society, culture or human nature, which is in the tradition of the best science fiction.

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