Andrew Niccol’s cautionary classic Gattaca is required viewing for anyone interested in dystopian sci-fi movies; a vision of a future transformed by genetic engineering and eugenics, it’s one of the best sci-fi movies of the last twenty years but it hardly rocked the box-office- indeed, I often refer to it as the finest sci-fi movie no-one’s ever heard about. Frighteningly plausable, its the kind of movie that hangs around in your head for days and weeks afterwards. Its also ravishing to look at with an excellent script and bewitching score. Pretty much perfect.
It was also Niccol’s debut feature, which marked him as a talent to watch- alas, his further features betrayed that promise. Case in point, his latest film In Time; another vision of a dystopian future, here the central conceit is that scientists have discovered the secret of immortality, and now Time has replaced money as the unit of wealth. Of course, in order for any currency to have any value, it has to be limited, which is the catch to what would otherwise be a utopian world of immortality. Basically, in practice immortality is reserved only for the very rich and powerful. When people reach the age of twenty five they no longer age (at least the film has a reason for the cast being all young and beautiful), and can stay that way in theory forever- but a digital glowing clock on their right forearm begins ticking down. The clock starts with one year left, and when it reaches zero, the person dies. More Time can be earned, like money would be, by work, but the complication is that everything -food, water, clothes, rent- costs Time off this clock. Time can be transferred between people, so it can be given, but can also be stolen, or, if you come from a wealthy family, amassed into centuries.
So In Time is basically a story of the haves and have-nots, and the inequalities in society; replacing the monetary wealth and poverty of our world with a near-future of beautiful rich people who will live forever and the millions of the poor underclass doomed to early deaths.
It’s a clever idea once you get your head around it, an allegory for our own wealth-dominated society, and could make a decent movie- but not this one. Unfortunately Niccols take the idea and turns it into something of a clunker, in which our superhot hero Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), angered by the untimely death of his mother becomes some kind of Robin Hood, robbing Time from the rich in order to redistribute it to the poor, thereby threatening to derail the entire system. The Sherriff of Nottingham here is veteran “Timekeeper” Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), who chases Salas and his superhot girlfriend Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Sylvia is from a super-rich family but she’s bored with her life of plenty or has gotten a conscience, or just fallen in love with this bit of rough that has entered her life… I don’t know, it all quickly unravels and becomes awfully daft. The pacing seems to be wrong somehow- it just races by so quickly, and without solid background/screentime the characters all come across as morbidly self-obsessed and unsympathetic (there also seems to be a lot of posturing and overly-crafted direction), and random plot-lines such as some nonsense about Salas’ dead father, or Sylvia being betrayed by her own father, come and go. Of course super-rich/superhot Sylvia will fall for Will, we don’t doubt it for a moment and they fall in love in an instant- its that kind of movie. By the time the film ends I just didn’t care about anyone or anything, I was just glad it was over. In hindsight, the cringe-worthy sequence early on of Salas and his mother (a superhot Olivia Wilde) running towards each other as she runs out of Time and dies in his arms as they finally embrace, telegraphs how the rest of the film will play out; very much style over substance.
As you might guess, the film certainly looks good, and I’m not referring to the superhot cast; photographed by veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins it looks gorgeous with a similar ‘look’ to what graced Gattaca, with sharp, saturated colours, while design-wise it reminded me of Alan Rudolph’s superior Trouble In Mind. Craig Armstrong delivers a decent score as usual. But all the talent in the world can’t save a film like this, a film desperately having an identity crisis (serious cautionary allegory or daft adventure/chase movie). Not a terrible movie but a wasted opportunity.