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In Time

Year: 2011
Production Co: Regency Enterprises
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Andrew Niccol
Producer: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfriend, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde

Andrew Niccol remembers a time when science fiction used to be about ideas, not what Nic Roeg called 'buzzes, beeps and bullets'. Every time I talk about film of his I mention how nobody else liked S1m0ne except for me, and his movies from Gattaca all the way through to Lord of War are as topical as they are well made.

But in hanging your premise on one strong idea there's also a danger that it's not enough to sustain a feature film, a problem I thought affected Code 46, Harrison Bergeron and (though it's considered a classic) Fahrenheit 451. So it was a little disappointing that In Time suffered from the same thing. Niccol had little to fill the film up with other than the rock solid world of his idea and a protracted chase sequence, and unfortunately Justin Timberlake doesn't have the action thriller hero presence to give the movie the human element it needed.

I think I was let down not because it was a terrible movie – it wasn't – but because it didn't have the brilliance of Niccol's earlier stuff. Not even the delectable Amanda Seyfried could distract me from the empty patches.

The good news is that the world of the story is brilliant. When you reach 25, you stop aging, which makes for some amusing scenes. In an early scene of Timberlake as Will wishing his mother a good day, played by the equally young Olivia Wilde. In another, the villain is introducing Will to his daughter, wife and mother in law, three equally young and glamourous women.

But as soon as you reach 25, a digital clock on your arm starts counting down and life for the have-nots is a constant battle to stay ahead of the clock, often earning just enough (in minutes) to live until the next day when they have to slave all over again, paying for life's necessities by having their arm scanned and minutes deducted from their total.

The rich, by contrast, have it made. They have hundreds or thousands of years on their clocks and not a care in the world, paying for luxuries on the heavily fortified inner rims of the city with years to spare. One of them is the pretty but bored rich girl Sylvia (Seyfried).

When Will rescues an enigmatic stranger from a bar fight, he finds the guy is one of the elite, inexplicably wandering the slums where Will and his kind live. When the strange guy explains that he's over a century old, gives Will all the time he has and jumps off a bridge to his death, Will is accused of his murder and goes on the run, one step ahead of the fearsome time police squad led by Raymond (Murphy).

He finds his way into the elitist circles of the city where it's rumoured a rich industrialist holds a million minutes, an amount of time Will dreams of getting his hands on so as to distribute it among the poor in his neighbourhood. He catches Sylvia's eye at a casino and soon the pair are in love and on the run together, robbing banks and sending it home to the downtrodden while discovering Sylvia's father is the one with the fabled cache of time they need to change the world.

It must have been a dream to market – because of the premise, the entire cast would be beautiful twentysomethings, and on paper everything would have looked fantastic. Some of the sci-fi details on screen such as the cars are great too – not overstated so as to appear from some far flung future, maybe just a parallel world of a few years hence. The reason people stop aging and then live on borrowed or earned minutes is never explained and nor is the technology that manages and transmits them, but like the dream machines in Inception, they don't need to be to tell the story.

So while it's essential viewing, in this case Niccol hasn't chosen the best story from this brilliantly imagined world.

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