When time really is money, it’s hard not to keep looking at your watch. Fortunately, viewing this film won’t have you looking at yours.
Welcome to the future, where everyone stops aging once they turn twenty-five. At that moment, a genetically embedded virtual clock on your left forearm begins to count down from one year. If it reaches zero, you die. If you want more time, someone has to give it to you, and since time actually is money, it’s also the most valuable thing anyone has. While the rich have all the time in the world, the poor wake up with less time on their hands than hours in the day. “Timekeepers” like Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) ensure that time flows to where it’s supposed to go, but a poor citizen like Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) who decides to challenge that system may take more time to stop than any Timekeeper is willing (or able) to spend.
Dystopian societies are a favorite in the sci-fi genre, from Death Race 2000 to Equilibrium and from Logan’s Run to Surrogates. One of the key staples of these films is a protagonist trying to “bring down the system” because “it isn’t fair,” a code phrase for “Me or someone I know is on the short end of the stick.” Some make more sense than others and some are more entertaining than others (even when they don’t make much sense), but In Time combines a number of interesting ideas and assembles them in a unique way with a very different outcome than most films of this type. There’s almost too much story to tell for the running time, but the pacing and close attention to details carry the film even when the acting falls short.
Both an entertaining bit of science fiction and a relevant metaphor for our time? Almost. Instead of a gold standard, the monetary system is the minutes you have left, and it is implied that they are finite. It is further inferred that the rich have all the time they could ever want because they take it from the poor in exchange for the necessities of life. In other words, the rich can keep getting richer because they already have time, and the poor are given just enough time to keep them poor so the rich can continue to stay rich. Of course, the only way to beat the system is for the poor to steal back from the rich like temporal Robin Hoods intent upon redistribution of wealth. Sound familiar?
What’s really clever here is how different characters deal with the situation as things go awry: a cop who can’t be bought because he believes in the system (in spite of having its flaws clearly pointed out to him), a business owner more concerned with his time than his kin, a poor alcoholic who suddenly comes into wealth, and “minute men” street thugs who mug others for their time. Even the concept of a very different kind of “street fighting” fits perfectly within an incredibly well thought out fictional world. However, while the concept is brilliant and the “time” puns just keep getting deeper and deeper, one key thing missing was a real sense of danger and mortality that a more seasoned group of actors (read: older) might have delivered, possibly turning a merely good film into a great one.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)