IN TIME C+
USA (109 mi) 2011 ‘Scope d: Andrew Niccol
This is an oddly conceived futuristic thriller that loves to play games with itself, adding a few strange twists along the way, but mostly it’s caught up in a badly conceived idea of the future that never really comes to life, that occasionally has its drama, but is ultimately undone by a lack of artistic conceptual design that holds any interest with the viewer, as the world looks pretty much like the same place divided into rich and poor neighborhoods. This plays out like a film noir set in Los Angeles, seen as a seedy ghetto world of down and outs, many of whom die on the streets as they simply run out of time. In this world, money is not the currency, but a programmed clock that clicks in upon reaching the age of 25, where no one physically ages past that point but everyone is given one additional year, where you can’t tell mothers and daughters from grandmothers, but a digital clock is imprinted on each arm with a ticking clock showing how much time is left in each person’s life, where goods and services as well as income are all paid in increments of time added or subtracted to the time clock on the arm. One other problem, anyone can simply steal someone else’s time simply through brute force, creating a crime infested world where many are desperately near the end, or live from day to day, receiving handouts from the local mission, while armed gangs roam the streets known as Minutemen, intimidating the population, taking whatever they want, as there’s no visual presence of a police force. Unlike John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), which has a highly effective dark and uniquely menacing visual and sound design of a criminal world off limits, lurking out of reach from the rest of the world, a gang infested society run on power and greed, Niccol has created neighborhoods similar to New York City boroughs distinctly based on accumulation of time, where the most wealthy live in a pristine world accumulating so much time that they can conceivably never die, where the motto is “Many must die for the few to be immortal.”
While this system of wealth does imitate the world of monetary currency, where the top 1 % of Americans own nearly half the nation’s wealth, Justin Timberlake as Will Salas is accustomed to living day by day, seeing people die and disappear without a trace, where he’s one of the few who develops an opportunistic sense about the world around him, as few are willing to think of others when they are fully consumed with the idea of saving themselves, where they inevitably spend the rest of their lives watching their own time disappear. The film gets a jump start when Will happens upon a dying man with shitloads of time who transfers it all to Will, raising the ire of a secret police force known as Timekeepers, led by Cillian Murphy, a sinister organization that keeps track of large chunks of time mysteriously changing hands, where they all but assume murder or some other criminal enterprise, naturally assuming the party is guilty without ever accumulating all the facts. In this sense, it’s a police state where only the rich have access to lawyers. However, this accumulation of time allows Will to quickly enter the wealthiest time zone, where at a poker table he meets Amanda Seyfried as Sylvia, the daughter of one of the wealthiest industrialists. In this Nirvana like world, they have an initial encounter that opens each other’s eyes, but only for a minute, as the Timekeeper is quickly on Will’s tail assuming the worst, where Will and Sylvia make a quick getaway, becoming fugitives on the run. Seyfried especially has that Anna Karina look from the 60’s, where the film quickly turns into a campish, slightly ridiculous road movie resembling the fashionable revolutionary outlaws in Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU (1965), a stylishly extravagant world of lavish excess, mostly shot in the exotic locale of the French Riviera in the South of France, but here they quickly return to the anonymous protection of Will’s squalid world where they can blend into the overpopulated city streets.
Blending fiction with real life, the kidnapped daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest men comes to resemble what actually happened with Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of millionaire publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst who was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a Robin Hood organization that robbed banks (including an armed Ms. Hearst) and distributed free food to the poor until they were eventually hunted down and killed by the FBI as a terrorist organization. Similarly, Will and Sylvia turn into a Bonnie and Clyde team of bank robbers, time bandits on the run, stealing huge amounts of time from her own father and redistributing it to the poorest of the poor in the ghettos, effectively altering the inequitable social status of the entire world, perhaps inadvertently creating an idyllic portrait of equality through socialism. This is something of a far-fetched and grossly idealized futuristic fantasia, complete with Amanda Seyfried in sexy, glamorous outfits, high heels, and plenty of makeup, but never breaking a sweat despite literally being on the run throughout most of the picture, much of which feels like a nonstop chase sequence, with Timberlake at the controls of what attempts to be an accelerated mind bender of a movie, but is horribly oversimplified. Perhaps if the world of the super rich wasn’t so visually similar to what we’ve seen before in the suited men in sunglasses from MEN IN BLACK (1997) or THE MATRIX (1999), and actually developed an original visual design on its own, this might have been something more than it turns out to be, literally wasting the talents of heralded cinematographer Roger Deakins shooting in ‘Scope, as this fails to resemble anything futuristic at all. You’d think a futuristic rumble between the haves and have nots, the 1% versus the 99%, might jolt the audience awake with concerns that stream out of the headlines of today, but this strangely turns into a fatalistic theater of emptiness and existentialist dread, where the future continues to be portrayed as an inevitable sense of impending doom.