Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Guest Review: In Time (2011)

By tryanmax

I am stunned to think that this movie came from the same mind as Gattica. I had mixed expectations when I sat down to watch. The premise—time has literally become money and if you run out, you die—sounded a little clunky to me. But I figured that maybe Andrew Niccol could pull it off. Besides, dystopian sci-fi is my favorite genre and I figured, if nothing else, I could expect some fast pacing, cool, futuristic visuals, and some clever one-liners.

** spoiler alert **

Never underestimate Hollywood’s ability to let you down.
Synopsis (Note: the names have been omitted because I don’t care.)
Scruffy Poor Guy (Justin Timberlake) lives in a future where humans have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. If they want to live longer, they must earn more time. Time is currency; one can earn it or spend it. To keep track of time, everyone has a timer embedded in their forearm. If it reaches zero, you die instantly. A side effect of the engineering is that everyone’s speech is riddled with wordplay about time.

In the ghetto, people live paycheck to paycheck. (ha!) So when a Stranger comes to town with a century on his clock, it attracts the attention of a gang of time thieves called the Minutemen. (ha!) Scruffy rescues him and in return the Stranger gives him his time (ha!), effectively committing suicide—but not before letting Scruffy in on the “vast conspiracy.” For the first time in his life, Scruffy has time on his hands (ha!), but the Timekeepers (a.k.a. cops, ha!) think he murdered the Stranger and the gang is now after him, too. Scruffy decides to skip town with his Hot Mom and go live the high-life. Before he can reach her, however, she runs out of time. (ha!) Now Scruffy is out for revenge and he plans to take it from, who else?, some rich dude he’s never met before.
Flawed Concept
One of the challenges facing any dystopian narrative is that, more so than other genres, it relies heavily on a gimmick. As far as that goes, the one here isn’t all that bad. The trouble is that this can lead to a weak script if the gimmick is made to carry too much. That is precisely the problem with In Time.

Most dystopian tales deal with the individual against a repressive society, but the “time is money” concept more easily pits the haves against the have-nots. This film dabbles with both as well as third concept involving the desirability of immortality, which might have paid off immensely if it weren’t so quickly abandoned. After a bit of waffling, the film finally takes off on a social justice screed that is itself a gimmick.

It is apparent that no real thought was given to how a society such as this one might actually work. For starters, in the film funds can be transferred—or stolen—with a simple handshake, so the fact that this society hasn’t crumpled into total anarchy is something of a miracle. Besides, given the life-or-death consequences of poor money management, one should expect the average person to have the financial acumen of a mutual fund manager. Plus, there is no logic that dictates only the affluent can live past 100 while the poor must die much younger.

It’s also impossible to get a sense of value within the movie. Prices seem assigned based on the needs of the plot rather than comparative worth. A point is made of shocking the audience early with the idea that a cup of coffee takes four minutes off of your life. But a “decent lunch” costs about 30 minutes while a five-mile bus ride costs two hours and a typical loan payment is two days. Things get even more out of whack when the action moves from the poorer “Time Zones” (ha!) to the more affluent ones. Suddenly, things move from being priced in minutes and hours to being valued in months and years. This is supposed to illustrate the grave disparity between rich and poor, but when a century makes one astonishingly rich, even the well-to-do can barely be making ends meet. Maybe I’m obsessing over the details. Or maybe it’s just lazy writing.
Heavy Handed Liberalism
This may not be the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it is definitely vying for the most blatantly liberal. From the annoying electric whine of all the cars to the token black guy who “gets it” when no one else does, this film practically has an “Obama/Biden” sticker on the back.

The film is so chock full of tirades, I can’t recall a scene without one. Several times, Scruffy broadly labels the rich as thieves. Sheltered Rich Girl (Amanda Seyfried) laments her privileged station a few times. Evil Rich Guy (Vincent Kartheiser) delivers a canned speech about Darwinian capitalism and the next stage of evolution—you know? the one that comes after conquering disease, age and death. Timekeeper (Cillian Murphy) laments that Scruffy is hurting the very people he means to help because that sounds like something a cruel conservative might say.

And remember the “vast conspiracy” I mentioned earlier? Here it is: the rich live in luxury while the poor struggle to survive even though there’s plenty to go around! This is what liberals pat themselves on the back for sorting out? The only thing more juvenile is the plan Scruffy and Rich Girl hatch to bring “the system” down: steal lots of money and if that doesn’t work, steal more money. I hate to say it, but a plot like that makes “unobtanium” seem like pure genius.
Nothing else is good, either!
At the beginning I said I was hoping at least for a quick film with eye-candy and witty dialogue. This isn’t even that. At only 100 minutes, In Time feels interminable, and endless chase scenes aren’t to blame. Rather it belongs to a repetitive stream of leftist pontifications. The art direction seems to have been lifted from Gattaca minus several bucks, so the only eye-candy takes the form of the entirely twenty-something cast. Somebody must’ve told Niccol that a good script has a twist at the end, because there is one thrown in that contributes nothing to the story and isn’t all that surprising anyway. And the dialogue, well, I don’t need to waste your time. (ha!)


Tennessee Jed said...

tryanmax - nice review. While not my favorite genre, there are enough bad ones to make me really appreciate the best. Obviously, this film vies for one of the worst. I expected that to be true, and you have confirmed. I shall now banish it to the dust bin of bad films and wait for The Hunger Game to be released.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Thanks for the excellent review. I'll comment shortly... am currently stuck in the other thread responding to comments.

Anonymous said...

So is it a liberal movie or a conservative movie, because I've read both! :-)

If most dystopian tales pit the little guy against the big society, and this film is a have/have not story, then maybe we shouldn't be labeling this a dystopian film...? (Just a thought.)

Andrew Niccol not only did Gattaca but he also wrote The Truman Show which was genius and very ahead of its time. But then he did Simone which wasn't very good and quite forgettable. (It was about a filmmaker who creates a virtual actress.)

Better luck next time.

tryanmax said...

Thanks, TJ. It occurred to me after I finished the review that one could make a drinking game of all the time clich├ęs. There are that many. I'm glad to have satiated my curiosity, but I can't think of a good reason to watch it again.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, thanks for posting it. And thanks for coming through with some appropriate photos.

tryanmax said...

Scott, I've read some conservative reviews and, after seeing the film myself, they put on impressive acrobatics to say the least.

I went back and forth on whether this really fit the dystopian mold. It was billed that way and I ultimately went with it because dystopia doesn't have to be about individuals vs. the collective, but it provides an excellent backdrop for that theme. Potentially that theme could mesh with the haves vs. the have-nots theme, but this film forces it and tosses out logic in the process--like a child smashing a jigsaw puzzle together.

Dystopia itself is really a setting more than a theme--similar to the way Westerns are defined. It's really just a means to let the audience know that the rules are different here. By that standard, this film fits.

tryanmax said...

BTW, I actually like S1M0NE. It's light but enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, tryanmax, I didn't expect anyone to remember that movie! Last time I underestimate anyone in these parts. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I haven't seen it, but from the plot descriptions, I honestly can't imagine this is a conservative film by any stretch.

The themes are clearly class warfare. And not only that, they are clearly exaggerated class warfare with obvious swipes at capitalism and all the things conservatives stand for. In fact, I can't see a single conservative theme in it.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, This sounds like an example of liberalism refusing to recognize itself.

Take the idea of engineering humans to die quickly. Why would anyone do that? What could possibly be the motive? Oh yeah, environmentalists and "population bomb" liberals want to reduce the human scourge. But I'll bet the movie doesn't really point that out, does it? I can't think of anyone else who would think that shortening the human life cycle would be a good idea, and certainly don't see why "the rich" would want to do this. But rather than be honest about who would actually advocate such a thing (which would implicate liberalism) they just make it the biggest liberal boogeyman: "the rich."

Liberalism does this all the time. They have some principle that is actually pretty horrific and to assuage their guilt, they project it onto others who they can then attack for being evil, all the while never really feeling bad that they support something very similar.

Also look at the hero. Far from being "a lone individual fighting the system," this is a terrorist who is attacking innocent people who happen to be benefiting from the system. If he really was a good guy who cared about people, he would try to bring down the system, not just hurt random people who happen to have more than he does. He is acting out of spite, not nobility.

tryanmax said...

Very astute, Andrew. This film is so replete with liberalism, I could have easily doubled (even tripled) the word count. It is exactly the case that this fictitious future could not possibly come about without some major leftist gains.

DUQ said...

Excellent review tryanmax. I saw this discussed at BH the other day but they didn't really explain the ideology. Most people seemed to think it was pretty far left, but there wasn't enough in the review to make that clear.

Doc Whoa said...

I haven't seen this. The ads struck me like The Island, a film which had a lot of potential, but ended up just being glitz without substance.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I run into that a lot where reviews could be 5-6 pages long to get everything in that should be said. So you are to be commended for keeping this short.

On your point about the future, I agree. This sounds like a film with a problem in that it never asked how we got from Point A to Point B. And then, because it had no intellectual core of how this world evolved, it just filled in the gaps with a liberal boogeyman.

tryanmax said...

DUQ, I read Nolte's review and I have to say he's filling in a lot of blanks with information the movie just doesn't provide. While I agree that one could view In Time as unintentionally conservative by imagining how such a nightmare-society might come into existence, neither the movie nor the featurette Nolte mentions contribute to that perspective in any way.

As such, I can only regard it as a thinly-veiled allegory for a leftist conception of economics. If nothing else, the film is liberal in that it portrays everything working as intended (good or ill) despite the fact that there is no logical way any of it should.

tryanmax said...

Doc, I don't know why this movie makes so many people think of The Island but you're not the first to make that comparison. I don't see it myself, but it makes no difference either way.

Doc Whoa said...

tryanmax, I can't say for sure, but that was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw the trailer? Maybe the black, white and silver blue color scheme or the similarity between the prettyboy + bold chick running from the authorities theme? I'm not sure. But that was my first thought.

ScyFyterry said...

I saw this and it was a clunker. You are absolutely right about the whole liberal feel of the movie. It felt like it was full of people giving generic liberal speeches that had little to do with the film itself.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc and tryanmax, That was actually the first movie I thought about as well. I can't tell you why either, but it "felt" like it. I think Doc may be onto something with the color scheme and a similar theme (at least for the trailer) of two young people running from "the perfect society."

Individualist said...


I went to see this film because it deals with (or rather I should say "should" deal with as this film really doesn't) the paradox of immortality.

We are biological animals and our death is programed so that our children can take over. If we live forever, then evolution stops for us. If we keep having children who live forever then at some point the population bomb theorized by leftist alarmists in the 60's would become a reality.

The film is attempting to portray this with the rise in prices. You will note that all throughout the movie they keep going up. When we get to the timekeepers and the wealthy we learn that it isn't about protecting individual proerty rights (the time earned by rich people) but rather about the collective control over time.

Essentially the majority of people must time out. Even if you are poor you can live forever if you can make enough but not everyone can. There must be deaths at a certain rate.

If this problem were handled in a realistic fashion then it could have been a very meaningful story. In truth the beginning of the film to my mind did do a comopentent job in setting this up despite the overt liberalism.

It was when they left the ghetto and got to the "rich" people where this whole thing fell apart. They dumped in a whole bunch of liberal platitudes about class warfare and Social Darwinism (a not so subtle allusion to Nazi eugenic principles by the way). Then having nothing but bumper sticker philosophy to end the movie with they decided to take the low road and turn it into Bonnie and Clyde Scifi style.

It was a real shame because the subject matter deserved a better treatment.

rlaWTX said...

speaking of depressing futures:
Have y'all read "Hunger Games"?

(I accidentally asked this over on the Caucus thread, but didn't feel like deleting)

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Nope. Is it good? What's it about?

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, The issue I'm having (and I repeat I have not seen the movie) is that I can't understand who would support this concept?

In other words, this is such an idea in a vacuum to me that it doesn't even make a good premise. It's like saying, "imagine a world were society makes sure that everyone eats tacos once a week." I can see that it's technically possible, but I can't see why anyone would want to do that. And since I can't see why this society would have evolved, the whole question of how to resolve it seems kind of meaningless to me.

Can you tell me what they were aiming at with the idea in the first place?

tryanmax said...

Indie, I agree, if it had followed the immortality storyline, this could have been a real winner. The quest for immortality has long been the metaphor for ultimate greed. Unfortunately, this wasn't about immortality. It was just about money with time as bullion.

I say my expectations were mixed going in because, by the time I actually saw it, I already learned it was not dealing with that topic. What is truly depressing is how close it got to following that line and then it just slips into cinematic laziness.

tryanmax said...

rlaWTX, Believe it or not, Hunger Games just popped up on my radar a couple of days ago. I don't know how I missed it. I don't remember the last time I scrambled to read a book before watching the movie, but this one just might make me do it.

CrisD said...

I saw this movie! It was always kind of losing me but not in a good suspenseful way--I kept saying to myself "Really" or "Why?"

Love your analysis. I missed all the liberal stuff because I was just watching the crazy action. The end was ridiculous as a recall.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax and Indi, Now you've intrigued me. It sounds like this had potential as a different movie?

JG said...

Great review, and I agree 100%. I thought "others" were reaching by calling this a secretly conservative movie. It's only "conservative" if you take the extra fifteen minutes after the movie ends to analyze it, which to me, means the message wasn't really there in the first place. "In Time" wasn't trying or wanting to be ironic. We can read it that way because we want to, but that doesn't make it so, IMHO.

BTW, get on Hunger Games. I really hope they don't screw up the story in the movie too badly.

T-Rav said...

Funny review, tryanmax! (I've got to start remembering that these things now go up at 9:00, not 4:00.) Originally, I thought the premise sounded interesting, but the more I heard about it, the more it seemed kind of dull and ham-handed. Then I heard about the barely veiled redistribution-of-wealth theme and blew it off.

This just seems like a clunker of a film. I don't know who thought up the cast; all these people are nonentities except maybe Cillian Murphy. (Yeah, I know it has Justin Timberlake. But c'mon.)

T-Rav said...

So can rla or someone say more about this Hunger Games thing coming up? Because I haven't given it much thought, but I'm becoming slightly interested.

JG said...

Re: Hunger Games -

It's another dystopian post-apocalyptic story, though we don't know exactly what year in the future it is, just in the future. After a massive war, North America is united in one nation called Panem, which is divided into districts. Each year, children from each district are selected for a battle to the death, as a means of psychological oppression by the Capitol distract. It's hard not to get spoilery, sorry, but one year, a girl is selected from one of the poorest districts, and her performance in the Hunger Games affect the entire nation. There are a couple of pretty decent trailers for the movie out there that give you the gist without ruining the story.

The movie only covers the first book in the trilogy. And no, I've never read Battle Royale, so I can't speak to the similarities. There's a good amount of political commentary, since the premise hinges on an oppressive centralized government, and that comes more into play in the later books, as to how and to what extent people should be allowed to govern themselves. Also a believable romance/love triangle, a decent amount of action and suspense. My husband is listening to the audiobooks now and enjoys them, even though they are written from the perspective of a 16 year old girl.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks JG. I had heard the name, but didn't know anything specific about it.

Here's the link: LINK

Koshcat said...

I haven't seen this film yet...because I haven't had the time (groan)

It's too bad because I too sort of liked the premise. Get a set amount of time and the only way to increase it is to work for it. This is bad? I definitely can see why the premise can be filled with holes, but a talented writer would be able to fill those in. Would it start at childhood? Have you seen how poorly young people manage money? They would be dead by 5. What about college? Going to college puts you in a group that averages more money over your lifetime, but would take about 20 lifetimes to afford. Unlike our system where we get something now and slowly pay it off (i.e. loans) it doesn't work as well when all you lifetime money is given up front. What if you don't pay for something? Do they make you do time or take it away (yes, I went there)?

Hadn't this basic concept already been done in Logan's Run?

tryanmax said...

Andrew, it does have potential as a different movie, but only as a very, very different movie. Let's say Unknown is 40% off, then In Time is 80% off.

tryanmax said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tryanmax said...

T-Rav, I'm glad you thought the review was funny. I wasn't trying for humor, but I like to be funny, so that's a double win!

On the cast, I don't know if it is even fair to critique them at all. They all had so little to work with, which is odd considering how much of the movie was monologues. But they were monologues of a certain sort, if you know what I mean.

Timberlake actually had some good moments; I think he is getting better. During a pursuit he tells the girl, "Don't worry, they'll stop chasing us eventually!" "Are you sure?" A bullet whizzes by and he pathetically groans, "No." It was so perfect and it made me laugh.

Seyfried just played a cutout, but she rocks the auburn bob. Murphy just played bored, which made me bored. The surprise was Kartheiser who actually convinced me he was four times his age.

tryanmax said...

Koshcat, they do address that in the film. You're born with one year of walking-around money that you can't spend for the first 25 years. One can earn and spend before 25 because they have these devices that allow it, but that isn't explored.

To my mind, while there would be some who fritter their lives away (ha!) such a culture would produce an inordinate number of accountants and actuarials. If what I call the "gimmick" were handled thoughtfully, the film's narrative wouldn't have even been possible.

Individualist said...


You have to consider what it would mean if we found the secret to immortality. There is a paraodx.

We are biological creatures that are programmed to die so that our children can live on and evolve.

If we become immortal and our children become immortal and our children's children then how do we feed the growing population explosion.

The movie does address this issue but honestly it is very clumsily done.

Elizabeth Moon in her Seranno Legacy series does a much better job. People can go back for expensive rejuvenation treatments but only the very wealthy Royals in an entire galaxy can afford this.

I read one scifi story (I forget the name) where the founder puts a bug in the rejuv that causes the individual to get cancer and die every 10 to 25 years unless they rejuvenate again. The cost was a minimum one million dollars but the kicker was that you had to give up all your assets to pay for it. Thus the only people that live forever are those that can earn a fortune again and again.

The question is how do you control the population if everyone is immortal. You can force sterilization however you have another problem.

You still need new people. New people grow and evolve. If everyone is the same a desease could wipe everyone out eventually.

In the movie the prices are arbitrarily risen to make it harder for people to earn 24 hours of time each day. Thus a greater number will Time Out. This keeps the population down. It is an interesting problem. One with many serious moral and ethical considerations.

The thing I find most unrealistic is why has no one tried to hack the code which is embedded into the time peices on the arm. Seems to me that would be the first thing I would want.

At any rate it is almost a crime they ended this with Bonnie and Clyde meet the Jetsons.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Those actually are interesting ideas and would definitely be worth exploring in a film. But it sounds like In Time just took a shallow part of the premise and then turned it into an action flick. That's too bad.

Unknown said...

tryanmax: Sorry to be so late. Doggie doctor in Bakersfield pretty much shot the day.

I saw some of the previews, and already suspected there was something very wrong with this movie. You fleshed it all out, so I won't be wasting my time with it. Besides, I'll never be able to take Justin Timberlake seriously in anything.

tryanmax said...

Indie, Yep, there is another direction the film could have gone but didn’t. “For a few to live forever, many must die,” is the film’s tagline, and overpopulation is mentioned (once, I think) but this too gets shoved aside.

Scruffy’s retort to the tagline in the end is that “No one should be immortal if even one person has to die.” If I thought the film was at all clever, I might wonder if there is an anti-religious dig in there, but I just can’t flatter it so.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That sounds like pure communism actually: unless everyone can have exactly equal goodies, then no one should be allowed to have anything... 100% redistribution.

tryanmax said...

Guess I shoulda mentioned that in the review, huh? Like I said, much too much to address all at once. This is one of those films that the more I think about it, the worse it is.

AndrewPrice said...

I feel that way all the time. My Lord of the Rings review, which was by FAR my longest at 5 pages (I try never to exceed 3 pages) started out at 12 pages before I cut it down.

DUQ said...

tryanmax, I hadn't seen the film, so I couldn't say for sure about Nolte, but I think I read the same review and I kept wondering how much of what was said was in the film and how much was supposition? It struck me there were a lot of assumptions and leaps of logic being made.

Individualist said...


From Dusk till Dawn was the same way for me only more so. The first half of this movie about a couple that are kidnapped and head to Mexico was a really great serious thriller. Then they make a rest stop in Vampire Central. And not even cool vampires, really more like suouped up zombies with fangs.

After leaving the film I just got more and more upset that they did not finish the film and instead cut to a cheap b movie instead.

In time up until the point where the mother dies was like that rfor me. They set up a good premise. They dealt with the mundane issues of life folding the technology and immprtality in as the every day. That was well done and Timberlake did a good job playing Joe normal.

Then, I don't know. It was Bonnie and Clyde meet Logan's Run but in the worst way possible. The more you think about the film the less you like it because your mind keeps wanting the film they were supposed to give you. The one that actually had something to do with the first half of it.

Tennessee Jed said...

As I had mentioned earlier, I have high expectations for Hunger Games. In my view, Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) is one of the best young actresses around. Usually, with a book this good, it will be hard for the movie not to disappoint, but we'll see.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That's an interesting point about From Dusk Til Dawn. I do enjoy the film very much, but like you I feel like it's two very separate movies and I wish they had finished the first one rather than ramming it into the second one.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks for the review Tryanmax!

I had a suspicion based on the previews that this would be bad but your review confirms it.

Too bad it generated into a class warfare movie that doesn't make sense.

Far too often I see a premise that could be interesting messed up because of film makers like these.
And not just in Scifi although it seems to happen more in scifi films.

Oh well. I also hope Hunger Games is good although I haven't read it yet.
Good scifi films are few and far between.

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