In Time begins with a very intriguing premise, taking the “time is money” idiom as literally as possible. In this futuristic society, humans have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. However, a timer begins after that point, only starting at a year. If the timer runs out, the person will die. In order to restock the timer, you must work or be gifted more time. Everything that costs money nowadays costs time. A cup of coffee costs four minutes, for example.
How does that not set up a fun movie viewing experience? It’s got to be hard to not at least make a semi-interesting and enjoyable film with that premise, and for the first half of In Time, I thought this was going to be a very fascinating film. At this point, we see a worker in the slums, Will (Justin Timberlake), living day to day. He works at the factory, and at the end of each day is given just enough time to work the next day. A terrible cycle, but that’s just how life is for him and his mother (Olivia Wilde). Things change when a man with a century left gifts Will his remaining time, and we then get to see how things are on the rich side of life.
Here’s a hint: They’re better. Will learns how nobody has to run anywhere, how time is gambled away just because, and things seem to be looking up. He even meets a woman, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), and it seems like life is going to be perfect. However, a Timekeeper — someone who ensures that nobody steals time and gets away with it — named Raymond (Cillian Murphy) thinks that Will stole his time, and then In Time becomes a chase movie with Will and Sylvia running away from the Timekeeper.
And Will also decides, despite enjoying the luxuries that having 100 years of time provided, that he wants to become the Robin Hood of a new age and figure out a way to give everyone enough time to survive comfortably — by taking it from the rich who worked hard to get their time and have done nothing wrong. I couldn’t exactly root for Will on his quest, as he wasn’t stealing from evil or bad people, even though he easily could have been, had the filmmakers made these people real villains.
Even the Timekeeper isn’t a bad guy. He’s just doing his job, and there’s actually an attempt to make him sympathetic. And Will is only being chased down because he was trying to do the good thing and stop the man who gave him his time from falling off the bridge. The man left himself five minutes, which was just enough to get to the bridge and sit there. Will is the suspect because he got there just In Time for the man to fall, and this was caught on a security camera. I guess the camera didn’t pick up the part where the man walked to the bridge and sat there for a couple of minutes before Will got there.
Without someone to root against, I found it hard to root for anyone. Will and Sylvia want to rob the rich and give to the poor, but why? Because Will was raised in a society where people live day to day? Then maybe he should have donated to a charity when he was given 100 years. You know, that might have been easier than robbing banks especially while being chased by a Timekeeper.
Does that seem like a logical character growth to you? He doesn’t have time, then he does, then he loses it all, and only then does he decide that everyone should be equal. And in that last part, his life is on the line every time he comes out of hiding to rob a bank or some rich guy. The factory life was good enough for millions of people for many years, the film shows us, so I’m not sure why the urgency is here now.
Oh, the film wants us to believe that inflation is to blame, but if you kill all of the workers with this inflation, then society won’t function. And that can’t happen for the rich folks who can spend time wildly. I feel as if Will didn’t really think this one through, or perhaps director/writer Andew Niccol was thinking more about the “time is money” concept and less about what his characters could do in a society using that concept literally. The story doesn’t make a lot of sense and is all over the place as a result.
And even when being chased, I didn’t feel the same sense of urgency. In the middle of a chase, it felt, Will and Sylvia could take the time out to rob a bank — even with the Timekeeper directly on their tail. They’re constantly running out of time, and yet they walk to most places, despite finding themselves back in the slum where people constantly run everywhere to save a few minutes. The action scenes aren’t that interesting either, few and far between as they are. The premise is about the only fun thing of In Time.
In Time could have been fun, or interesting, but it’s not because of what it degenerates into: An almost incomprehensible action film that seems ashamed of the engaging premise it previously established. It doesn’t matter that time and money are the same once the action starts, as our characters are robbing banks that might as well contain bills for the function that they serve. The characters and their motivations don’t make sense, there’s no real villain, and I can’t recommend In Time except to say that the first half is quite ingenious and enjoyable, which makes the second half feel like an even bigger waste of time.