It seems hard to believe that Justin Timberlake was barely 20 years old when he was elevated from boy-band teen heart-throb to worldwide super star with his debut solo album Justified in 2002. Timberlake has been in the public eye for so long, that it is equally surprising that him playing a 25-year-old (looking) man in In Time is not problematic, and neither is 35-year-old Cillian Murphy playing a man physically 10 years his junior. Unfortunately this movie's downfall lies elsewhere.
In Time is a high-concept sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian alternate reality in which one's lifespan has become the new currency. When the inhabitants of this world reach the age of 25, they stop ageing, and are given a year to live: time that can be bought, sold, traded, and unfortunately for some, stolen. We join the action at a time in which the rich have obtain immortality by exploiting the poor, who are left scrounging around for what remaining time they can beg, steal or borrow in a world of inflating prices, unemployment and street crime. Beginning to spot the message?
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, whose writing credits include the wonderfully scripted The Truman Show, the concept of In Time is a fabulous one, with the "time is money" analogy providing a damning denouncement of the greed of modern capitalism. As with the island that Truman Burbank called home, Niccol has set the section in a deliberately nondescript, yet noticeably familiar time period, with the futuristic technology owing more to the sci-fi of the 1980s than the modern post-digital age. The population has been split into different "time zones" that are segregated by wealth, the rich living it up in the excessively decadent New Greenwich (get it?) and the poor left to fester in the ghettos. The allegory maybe an obvious one, but it is effective. In fact, there is such a wealth of interesting ideas in Niccol's relatively solid script, that some of them seem superfluous.
Timberlake plays our hero, Will; a young man who lives life day-by-day (literally), trying to provide for his mother (Olivia Wilde) and help out the local urchins. His is not the most well-drawn character, and despite Timberlake being a more than watchable screen presence, he seems a little green at times, struggling to pull off the more dramatic scenes. It is mainly a fault in the casting, with the role needing to be more Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, than Hayden Christensen in, well, everything. Unfortunately, the film hangs on this performance, and never manages to overcome the problem despite a wonderful turn from Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser, as the villainous fat cat whose ideas of capitalism and natural selection have merged and believably seems to be older and more consumed by wealth and greed than his years suggest. A bit like Gideon Osborne. Amanda Seyfried provides decent support as the leading lady, serving up the strength and sexiness that the well-written role deserves, but alas, it is not enough to save it.
The pacing is well mapped out and the movie is never dull, but In Time's biggest flaw is that its execution fails to do justice to its inventive conceit, with crumbly acting, sloppy direction and miscasting ultimately spoiling an inventive screenplay that could have been better realized by a more seasoned director.
In Time is released in UK cinemas Tuesday 1st November.