In Time (2011)

(In theaters, November 2011)  I’m glad to see that writer/director Andrew Niccol is back on-screen after a lengthy hiatus following the memorable Lord of War: With high-concept science-fiction thriller In Time, he recalls his even-more-memorable Gattaca in delivering an intriguing retro-futuristic allegory.  In Time’s premise makes no sense, but it’s bluntly delivered within moments of the opening credits: All humans are genetically engineered so that they live “freely” until 25; after that, you have to purchase your own life… to immortality if you have enough time.  Never mind how that happened; In Time picks up in a distant future where the system has been operational for centuries and where people never stop to question the artificial nature of the entire construct.  That is, until a young day-to-day worker (played with some energy by Justin Timberlake) gets an unexpected gift of centuries and decides to go against the system following the death of his mom.  There isn’t that much more plot to the movie than a slide into Bonnie and Clyde territory during the second half, but like Niccol’s own Gattaca and S1m0ne, In Time works far better as a fable than an attempt at realism.  The stylised visual design of the film (which mixes influences from the forties to the seventies in a Los Angeles that feels out of time) is a clue that this is not meant to be take entirely at face value.  Indeed, it’s a happy accident of release timing that In Time arrives in theaters during the first significant wealth-equality movement in a long time.  “Occupy Wall Street” and “We are the 99%” happens to coincide strongly with the film’s populist leanings, and its make the film feel more satisfying in consequence.  From a science-fictional perspective, In Time makes little sense either in conception or execution.  It does, however, manage to extract quite a bit of mileage out of its premise, and feels like another decent SF movie in a year where (witnessing films such as Source Code, Limitless and The Adjustment Bureau) the genre has been blessed with a few competent outings.  I suspect that many non-SF-fans will feel that In Time is a bit too cold and intellectual (a constant in Niccol’s films so far) to be truly satisfying, and they have a point: Still, it’s a decent, thought-provoking film –and let’s hope that Niccol’s next project won’t take another six years to arrive on-screen.

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