The world is full of hot 25-year-olds — some of whom can live forever, some of whom keep from dying young with borrowed time — in In Time, a nice-idea, so-so-execution science fiction suspense movie.
Think about that: even though they may be 80 or 105 or 53 inside, a person’s outside is forever 25. Perhaps because I’m past that date, there’s something inherently creepy to me about that. Some people don’t get good looking until after 25, some have already passed their lookin’ good age. Sure, I guess it would be nice not to ever go gray or get wrinkles but there’s something very disconcerting about the idea of a world that looks like a gym on singles night.
The catch to this world of eternal youth is that after 25, people only have one free year to live. Any time beyond that year they have to hustle for — working, inheriting, playing poker, stealing, borrowing from a payday-lender-style outfit. For Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, real age 30), this means running everywhere so as not to waste any precious seconds that could be spent on rent, utilities or paying back one of those loans. He and his mother, Rachel (Olivia Wilde), are often just hours away from potential death — running out of time means running out of life — in their constant juggling. In their low-banked-time neighborhood, not only do limited income (of minutes; time is the currency) and high prices keep them constantly fighting for survival but there are local Minutemen, a gang of thugs who will steal from those with too much time on their hands. One night at a bar, the Minutemen descend to relieve Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) of the 100-plus years he’s currently carrying (the rich are also able to bank their time away though the threat of personal harm is great enough that most of them go through life with bodyguards). Henry, alone and flashing his time around, seems like an easy mark. But Will feels bad for him and steps in to hustle him out of harm’s way, thus bringing the Minutemen after both of them. They finally find a place to hide out for the night in a warehouse and spend a while talking about the nature of time. When Will wakes up in the morning, he finds Henry has gone and most of his time is now on Will’s arm.
Will decides to use that time to try out the high life. He plans to take his mom through the toll-taking time zones (think gated neighborhoods but with chunks of your life required in payment to enter them — actually, exactly like gated neighborhoods but with futuristic architecture). But tragedy gets in the way and he decides instead to enter the high-end, rolling-in-time neighborhoods with darker intent. He goes to a casino and makes even more money off exceptionally wealthy man Philippe Weiss (Vincent Kartheiser — one Pete Campbell from Sterling Cooper). Now armed with an honestly obtained millennium, Will buys a sweet car, enjoys an expensive meal and tips well. But just as you need more than money to move up in economic class, it takes more than time to help him truly fit in to the world of the longevity-possessing. Timekeepers, this world’s version of the police, can’t let people just come into great amounts of time — it could shake the whole economic system. (Time is, for reasons never fully explained, zero-sum in this world. If I get more time, it means some group of people has lost time.) So veteran timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) is quickly on Will’s trail. He comes to question him at Weiss’ party, but before he can take Will into custody, Will escapes and kidnaps Weiss’ daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), who is both frightened by Will and a little excited by the adventure.
Because, you see, now that everybody can be young and fit forever, they are very freaked out by the idea of dying. Most rich people have at least one bodyguard and they eschew risky activities, like swimming in the ocean, that might lead them to “die accidentally,” as Sylvia puts it. This seems like an odd response to eternal life. It’s hardly the seize-the-day, surf-to-your-shark-hunting-lesson attitude you’d think people would have if their bodies would never slow down on them and life could be one backpacking-through-India trip after another. Could be if you’re rich; for the poor, life is even nastier, more brutish and shorter than it was back when 25 was truly middle age. Is life really longer, living that cautiously, or does it just feel longer?
And what happens to society when everyone looks the same age? Do older people become more appealing? More immature? Does adolescence last forever for the rich? Do the poor feel forced to do as much as they can before they hit 25 and their clock starts counting down? Why is a massive underclass necessary to keep this societychurning? And what truly happens if time is the currency? Why is there a finite amount of time? “For a few to be immortal, many must die” — that or something like it is the film’s driving force, the thing that Will tries so hard to fight against. But the movie never really examines the concept, any more than it comments on whether older men would still end up with younger women or whether eternal good health would make some people behave even more recklessly. The movie has almost no fun with its concept, other than to line up a bunch of underwear-model-type girls and make the joke that you can’t really tell which one is Weiss’ daughter, wife or mother-in-law.
Instead, the movie moves from its intriguing sci-fi setup to a rather basic action movie. Justin Timberlake pulls off action hero nicely. Amanda Seyfried’s character feels weak but it mostly doesn’t matter. Cillian Murphy is a serviceable by-the-book cop. A couple on the run, tension that leads to romantic feelings, the cops that are hot on their trail, robbing from the rich to give to the poor — it’s all very pat, very middle-of-the-road after its high-concept introduction. Shooting and car chases are fine — but the movie had me expecting so much more. C+
Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and strong language. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, In Time is an hour and 49 minutes long and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.