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World with a genuinely engaging 'Time'

Posted: November 10, 2011 - 9:48am
From left, castmembers, Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, director and writer Andrew Niccol, and Vincent Kartheiser pose together at the premiere of "In Time" in Los Angeles, Oct. 20, 2011. "In Time" opened in theaters Oct 28.  AP Photo/Matt Sayles
AP Photo/Matt Sayles
From left, castmembers, Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, director and writer Andrew Niccol, and Vincent Kartheiser pose together at the premiere of "In Time" in Los Angeles, Oct. 20, 2011. "In Time" opened in theaters Oct 28.

"In Time"
Regency Enterprises
1 hour, 49 minutes

Imagine, if you will, a world where money has no meaning, and a man's worth is measured by time he has left instead of the green in his wallet. A world where the poor live short lives filled with desperation, and the rich can live forever. Will Salas was born into this world, and his time has been meted out little by little, day by day. But all that's about to change. He'll find all the time he needs, in the Twilight Zone. Insert eerie, dramatic percussion here.
OK, it's not a Twilight Zone, but "In Time" certainly fits the bill. I read recently that there is a new "Zone" movie in the works, which makes sense. Over the past 12 months or so I've seen at least half a dozen movies that would have fit neatly into the Rod Serling's repertoire. Cool, smart science fiction without the need for much in the way of special effects other than some clever and subtle green-screen or, in the case of this week's mindbender, a glowing countdown clock on the inside of the left arm.

Salas, played with standard thriller intensity by Justin Timberlake, is poor, and like the rest of his community, receives wages that amount to little more than life a day at a time. When you are "paid" in this reality, your life clock goes up, showing the time you have left in years, days, hours and seconds. Most of the people in Will's community have a running life expectancy of a few days -- rarely more than that. Because no one physically ages past the age of 25, people count their age as 25-plus. "I've been 25 for three years. How about you?"

Where the inequity becomes really clear is in the case of the rich, some of whom have been 25 for over a century. Fortunately for everyone, those glaring differences don't come into focus all that often, because people are segregated into zones. Time zones, to be exact. In the poorer time zones, things are cheap, but not cheap enough to allow anyone to get ahead. The ritzier time zones, like New Greenwich, for example, cost years in tolls to even enter. This keeps the riff raff out, but nothing keeps the rich from going the other way. When Henry Hamilton comes strolling into Salas' working class neighborhood, the only thing that keeps him from being mugged for his years is Will.

Hamilton, who carries over a century on his arm and has untold more years banked away, is weary, and while he and Will hide out in an abandoned building, decides to do the unthinkable. While Will sleeps, Henry gives what's left of his life to this stranger and then lets his own clock run out. When Will awakes, it's as if someone slipped a million bucks into his pocket. He has freedom, options. But what to do with it? He heads uptown to see how the other half lives, and it shocks him. He gambles his years up to nearly a millennia, but it's too much to hope for. The system won't allow someone like him to infiltrate the upper echelon. Soon the Timekeepers, officers of the law who keep track of the distribution of time, are on his trail, and Will is on the run with a spoiled heiress in tow. He's made up his mind to gather all the time he can. But what he does with it could mean life or death for the entire system.
There's a lot that's great about "In Time." Director Andrew Niccol is in familiar territory here, having written both "Gattica" and "The Truman Show," both dramatic fantasies with serious social implications. "Time" is particularly timely with it's stark vision of the haves and the have-nots. The gap between those with time and those without is huge, and the barrier to advancement is, in this world, a literal concrete barrier, as opposed to the economic and social one that people from depressed situations face in the real world.

The equation of money with time is apt, and works, mostly. The metaphor only breaks down in very specific occasions -- a woman willing to spend an hour for a short bus ride when she only has two hours of life left, for example. But even when the concept is a little flimsy, the overall idea is solid -- the rich can do what they want without worry, while the poor live paycheck to paycheck, with no security at all. And to make matters worse, the rich need the poor to stay poor in order to make their lavish lifestyles possible. Sound familiar?

Not everything in the film works, however. It seemed incredibly easy to steal time from another person -- a feature I can't imagine the people who set the whole thing up wouldn't have addressed. You basically grab their arm and it's yours. There's a very silly "battle" that the extra tough take part in. It's kind of like arm wrestling -- you grab your opponent's forearm, grimace, and watch as your years either melt away or increase depending on who's winning. How this happens is anyone's guess. I suppose the fighter with the better grimace gets the years.

These little bumps notwithstanding, "In Time" is very cool and genuinely engaging. It misses some real opportunities right at the end, but I could forgive it for that. At least it didn't have me looking at my watch.
Grade: B+

"In Time" is rated PG-13 for action violence, sensuality, and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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