Andrew Niccol’s facile dystopian visions are not always well-thought-through, but have nonetheless been nifty (S1mone), disquieting (Gattaca) or straight-up profound (The Truman Show, which Peter Weir directed from Niccol’s script). But In Time, about a world where time is currency, the rich live forever, and the poor have to hustle not to die shortly after age 25, is just criminally stupid — a thudding contrivance that inspires more eye-rolling than anything else. Though at first I grooved on Niccol’s typically sleek visual sense (helped here by Roger Deakins’ cinematography, which paints Niccol’s futuristic vistas in beautiful, warm greens and yellows) and the sheer audacity of the conceit (people literally have scrolling clocks techno-tattooed on their arms), it soon became clear that the film didn’t really have anywhere to go. It reminded me of Kurt Wimmer’s infamous dystopian failure, Equilibrium.
As a parable about haves and have-nots, with the have-nots’ plight taking on new urgency, the movie is onto something: time is money, money is time, and running out of both can be life or death. But In Time is a blunt instrument — it trusts its audience not at all. At one point, long after the film’s conceit has been established, its protagonist (Justin Timberlake trying to play an edgy tough guy — no dice) robs someone at gunpoint, and cracks: “I’d say your money or your life, but your money is your life, so.” One would think that by now we — not to mention the inhabitants of the society Niccol depicts — would have picked up on this equivalence. But Niccol never gets tired of making these little jokes; In Time‘s highest calling may be to illustrate how many linguistic metaphors in the English language use the concept of time.
Timberlake’s destitute Will Salas, gifted with over a century of time by a suicidal aristocrat (Matt Bomer), escapes from his designated “time zone” (see?), kidnaps the daughter of a filthy-rich magnate, and spends the rest of the film running away from the “timekeepers” (argh!) hell-bent on recovering the time they consider stolen and restoring the natural order of things, i.e., stomping on the paycheck-to-paycheck poor. The screenwriting is fairly shameless, just blithely inserting several mentions that Will’s father, whom we never see, was killed for giving time away to the poor, which of course the rich can’t have. “Many must die for the few to be immortal.” We learn nothing else about Will’s father or their relationship. And if you thought Gattaca‘s climactic swimming contest was kind of weird, wait until you get a load of what Niccol comes up with for the face-off between Will and an evil time-stealing gangster (Alex Pettyfer). The Kiwi filmmaker has done great work before, and no doubt will again, but In Time is a graceless, heavy-handed bore.
— Eugene Novikov