The arrival of In Time to our screens is one I admit to some enthusiasm about given that Gattaca was and remains one of the most impressively structured and clinically filmed movies that I would categorise as "High Scifi" that I have seen. The prospect of Andrew Niccol directing and writing another film of similar intent was one i've had my eye on for some time, but could it meet my high expectations?
Like it's predecessor, In Time is a very concept driven film and the concept is an area of serious strength for the film, just as inspirational as the genetic dystopia of Gattaca. Having cracked the secret to immortality, the human race has realised that an ever increasing population with a limitless lifespan is unsustainable. In order to deal with this, every human is now hardwired to die one year after their 25th birthday. Death is instantaneous (the corporations having apparently learned a few things from rescreenings of Logan's Run) and can only be avoided through the acquisition of further time. Time has therefore become the currency, being the payment method for everything from bus tickets to mansions, and just like currency today it is polarised into a few with eons of time and the masses who live from day to day. The story follows Will Salas who seeks to overcome the system when he is gifted over a century of time by a disillusioned member of the upper classes. He is joined by a daughter of the elite, Sylvia Weis.
The system itself has obvious allegory to capitalism, with few at the top relying on many staying at the bottom and the lowest earners of time literally on a knife edge between life and death. When you consider that the struggle of Will and his mother is not unlike that of millions across the world who struggle to feed themselves each day for lack of money, it becomes a thinly veiled allegory indeed.
That said, by making the currency time the filmmakers have done more than simply invent a way of increasing the pace and tension of the film. As human beings we perceive time and have associations to it. We all know the clock is ticking, we fight its effects, we have a belief about whether our relatives went before or after their time. The film offers the question, what would you do if you knew how much time was on that clock? How would that affect your behaviour? And then how far would you go to obtain more? We should care as much about the starving masses as we do the people in this film, but somehow those fluorescent green numbers add a sense of desperation and urgency to a problem that many of us have got so desensitised to we no longer truly see.
If this depth of concept is the films greatest strength, then its greatest shortcoming is its failure to adequately deal with that set up. The core conundrum of the film is that even if the system is overturned, overpopulation will kill everyone just as assuredly. This point is later ignored in favour of the revolution theme and a weak attempt at arguing that humans are naturally inclined towards not living forever. I suspect that when it came down to it, the filmmakers had a problem so perfect that they had no way to solve it satisfactorily, which is hardly surprising given the parallels to a real world problem that certainly has no magic solution.
This issue did not have a big impact on my enjoyment of the film. Strong performances from all cast members, perhaps most especially the ancillary actors who give the universe credibility (for example Olivia Wilde who overcomes some early clunky dialogue to deliver one of the film's biggest emotional punches), along with an action packed and ever shifting plot make this an enjoyable and occasionally heart-wrenching film to watch. On the technical side it has the visual clarity of purpose of Dark Knight and brings no less to the table on the audio side.
While it doesn't quite achieve the plot perfection of Gattica, I would certainly recommend this film if you're into films that are a bit more thought provoking. It never gets stuck in its own highbrow themes, dancing between capitalism, revolution, mortality and class with ease while delivering something truly watchable.
It would be fair to say that the films many meanders work because you never see the next sequence coming, and the fact these sequences, to some extent at least, never really get anywhere could be considered a bit of a cheat. To enjoy In Time, as I did, you need to judge the quality of the journey more than the destination. Bearing this in mind, I would not hesitate to recommend it... if you can afford a couple of hours!