Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Watcher - In Time

In Time is a dystopian science fiction thriller from director Andrew Niccol and starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy. The basic concept is that overpopulation has forced the powers that be to genetically alter the human race to live up to the age of 25, thereafter earning further time, which has now become the new currency. The result is that the population has divided between those who live day to day, eking out a living through manual labour, with the ever present threat of their clock running out, and those who have accumulated almost limitless reserves through banking or crime and are now effectively immortal.

The concept provides fertile ground for social commentary and interesting set pieces. From the outset, the threat of living against the clock is clear as factory worker Will Sallas (Timberlake) and his mother arrange to meet the next day after work, as their personal clocks slowly tick away. As we watch Sallas struggle to make it through the day, coping with inflation, low wages and passing the abandoned bodies of those unlucky souls who’s time has expired, while his mother misses the bus, forcing her to race against time to their meeting and inevitably meeting with tragedy.

The opening scenes neatly establish the mechanics of the central concept, but they are also where the film’s emotional content runs out of steam, as Sallas stumbles upon a caches of a hundred years and the film switches to a more breathless combination of James Bond and Crank as he sets out to restore some form of justice to society, snagging Seyfried’s reluctant socialite Sylvia along the way. There are a couple of interesting uses of the time concept, with one particular highlight being a high stakes poker game, where Sallis literally bets his life, going all in against the film’s defacto villain, heartless banker Phillipe Weis.

In time is an entertaining film, and the use of time as an analogue for money as a mean to manipulate and surpress society’s underclass in well handled, with particular resonance in today’s economic problems. It is however not without its problems. The idea that everyone stops ageing at 25 and thus the population appears perpetually youthful is potentially interesting, as character’s real ages are revealed, but this never has the dramatic value that it should, and is in most cases played for cheap laughs. There are also one or two interesting casting choices which rather stretch credibility such as Cillian Murphy’s under written cop/timekeeper Raymond Leon, whos appearance clashes noticeably with the largely young cast, who despite their best efforts, never quite match his innate gravitas.

The script too, as well as being rather thin on the ground in terms of characterisation, rather overplays the puns on the word time. Although a society in which time has become the currency would naturally develop a matching vocabulary, this never comes across as anything other than a slightly clumsy gimmick, however admirably the cast play it straight.

Overall, In Time is a heartfelt thriller, displaying a spark of intelligence. Kudos to writer/director Andrew Niccols for forging a work of intellince and heart of what appears to be a shoestring budget, but it appears sadly that this film could have used a little more time to iron out the kinks.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe is lost in Cillian Murphy's eyes. Aren't we all...

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