I certainly wasn’t in a hurry to write this review. (Blame it on The Fassbender.)
I really loved Gattaca. Sci-fi is usually not my thing but I loved Gattaca because it was 1) visually stylish and 2) totally plausible (to me). It was all about genetic engineering and the quest to create perfect people and what would happen if not everyone was able to be perfect. To this day, I still love Gattaca a lot and recommend it frequently. This has bought its writer/director, Andrew Niccol, a lot of leeway with me, which he has nearly exhausted with S1m0ne and Lord of War. In Time bought him back some of my affection but not all that he once had.
First, let’s talk about the good of In Time, because the movie isn’t a total loss. My favorite part of In Time was the cinematography, done by Roger Deakins, a frequent Coen collaborator and a visuals god. I ADORE Deakins’ work—I’m unreasonably devoted to it. Oh my god, True Grit? The framing! The Assassination of Jesse James? The tracking! The vistas! The man is an ARTIST. Deakins is a natural match for Niccol’s futuristic stylings and the two created some lovely shots I would take stills from and frame and hang on a wall. There was something a little bare-bones about it and the camera was allowed to rest at times and simply observe static spatial dissonance and it fit the overall have/have not theme of the movie. The look of the movie was lovely.
Another thing that worked was Niccol’s world building. In this iteration of the future, people have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and in theory, one could live forever if one had unlimited time. But time has replaced money as currency and so only the superrich have unlimited time. Sound familiar? The message of the poor literally working themselves to death so that the “haves” can have more is particularly timely. And those that have live in terror of losing it—shadowed by body guards, never rushing around or driving their own cars, paranoid that the smallest accident or sudden violence could end them. Meanwhile, the poor buggers in the ghetto are literally dropping dead in the middle of their day as they “time out”. They live day-to-day, or, more likely, minute-to-minute. It’s an intriguing concept that kind of falls apart in the final act, which I blame on the impulse to give the central couple a happy ending instead of resolving them to their more natural doomed fate.
Also working for In Time was the trio of villains. It was one too many villains, but each part was so well cast they were enjoyable to watch anyway. Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) is the chief in charge bad guy, Philippe Weis. Weis is the head of a time bank and he is, for all intents and purposes, immortal. He lives with his family (they all look perpetually 25, which is creepy) in a super expensive house (which I have been to a couple times and no, it’s not on a beach and that detail really took me out of the movie for moment) and has a veritable army of bodyguards following him around. Kartheiser nails this part perfectly. He’s always smiling, smarmy, and kind of oily, despite the expensive suits. Also, his lips were the prettiest red—I really want to know what his lipstick situation was. Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) brought his serial killer stare to work as a “time keeper” (read: cop) who is hell bent on keeping time ticking along as it should, even at the expense of innocent lives.
The least useful villain was Alex Pettyfer’s “Fortis”. I think he was some kind of gang leader? I never really knew. At any rate, he wore a gangstery suit and went around mugging people of time. He had the worst dialogue in the movie, bar none. His character was hugely useless, serving only to set up a scene in which the hero, Will (Justin Timberlake), kills a bunch of people stylishly. Yet Pettyfer chomps through that shit like it’s the acting Olympics. This is the third time I’ve seen him in a movie this year and it’s the first time he’s really been engaged with his material. He is having a blast waving his gun around and being menacing. Pettyfer is so pretty they’re going to try and make him a leading man but he’s born to play villains.
Moving on to what didn’t work about In Time, let’s start with its lead, Justin Timberlake. This is the single biggest problem the movie has. The casting was all around good—Matt Bomer (White Collar) did well in a small part and Amanda “Oatmeal” Seyfreid was quite effective as Weis’ daughter, Sylvia. She was particularly good at capturing Sylvia’s anxiety as she leaves the protective bubble of her father’s influence. Even Olivia Wilde was tolerable as Will’s mom (doesn’t hurt that she’s only around for fifteen minutes). But Timberlake is the weak link. I don’t think he’s the worst actor I’ve ever seen—he’s too good of an entertainer not to be able to act at all—but he has no gravitas. He cannot sell the serious moments. I never once believe him. Worse, in a scene where we’re supposed to feel badly for Will, his tone-deaf reaction elicited laughter from the audience. In Time with Bomer as the lead is a considerably different movie.
The other big drawback is the ending. Will and Sylvia go on a Robin Hood-style crime spree that really, should in tears but we’re spoon fed a happy ending. The final act kind of just falls apart and the big reveal about the time keeper’s backstory fell flat. He was much more menacing when he was just a constant looming presence, like Boss Godfrey. Once we know the why, though, he gets a lot less interesting. The movie ends with Will and Sylvia in love and continuing their heroic crime spree. It’s oddly optimistic for such a morally bankrupt vision of the future. I much prefer Gattaca’s more ambiguous ending. In Time is not worth your money in theaters but is probably good for a Saturday night at home when there’s nothing better to watch. Or you could just rent Gattaca.