Written and directed by Andrew Niccol
Some movies have a great concept that they just don’t know what to do with. Let’s take In Time. It’s about a world where time is money…literally. Once people hit 25, they’re given a year to live; a year that also becomes their currency. They can get more time and live longer, they can spend all their time and die. It’s fascinating, and yet the movie just stumbles with it.
Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives in a ghetto and is basically living a day at a time. When Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) gives him over a hundred years and tells him of a conspiracy, Will uses it to go to the upper-class neighborhood (they’re divided into time zones. Get used to the puns now, they keep coming.), where he has to escape pursuit by timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy, who’s 35 and looks it) and kidnaps Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried).
The main problem with the plot is that it just lurches forward randomly. There will be scenes that do nothing for the plot, and then suddenly the next scene moves the plot forward several steps. It also radically transforms along the way, with Will eventually becoming a time-based Robin Hood. Which brings me to my main problem with the movie: the moral ambiguity. I keep trying to dissect the movie in my mind to see if it’s intentional or not, and no, I don’t think it is, and I’ll be writing this review on that assumption. Which makes it really screwy. Robbing the rich and giving to the poor is fine when money is just money. When it’s people’s lives, it starts to hit this awful spot. At one point, he carjacks somebody and takes all the passenger’s time except for a day, in what I assume is the ghetto. Where there’s gangsters called Minutemen who also rob people’s time, so she’ll likely die (by the way, the giving of time is not consensual, as one scene has a character knocked out and most of her time stolen from her. Since people can DIE if somebody takes all their time, this is a big question mark that’s just not solved). But it’s OK because the movie says it is. Now I sadly have to spoil the movie to question more of the moral ambiguity, so if you wish to not be spoiled, skip the next paragraph.
Let’s start with one of the big scenes: when Will gets his 100+ years, he gives 10 years to his friend because they’ve been friends for 10 years. It’s actually a really nice scene. When Will comes back later, the wife is at the door and says the friend drank himself to death. This is rather stupid on its own, but it just leads to bigger questions. At the end, in what’s supposed to be a “poor rise up!” happy ending, the poor all get a huge influx of time. And we’re meant to assume that none of them are going to waste it on drinking. Oh, and by the way, this is all stolen time. At some point, Will and Sylvia start robbing banks to get time. I could see this movie another way, where Will voluntarily gives his own time away and ends up sacrificing himself. That would give a decent moral. Instead, the apparent moral is “The rich are stealing from you so rob banks”. I just wish the movie had given one nod that Will is meant to be in the grey, at least an anti-hero. Instead it just seems to show him as ultimately good and all the ambiguity is swept under the rug for a happy ending.
There’s also a lot of the world that’s just not explored. I understand that you can only do so much in a movie, but at the end I’m left wondering big questions like, “How did the world get here? Why 25? Do babies have their magic clocks already installed when they’re born? Are people still born?” Perhaps the biggest question of all is “With such an original idea, why wasn’t this movie better?” It’s not awful. There’s some nice scenes and an interesting world here, but it’s buried in an indecisive plot and troubling morals. Disappointing.