At the Movies: In Time

I kinda wanted to see “Puss in Boots” since Puss is the only character from “Shrek” that I really liked and one of the few cats — real or fictional — that I really like, but alas, the scheduling didn’t work out.

So that left me with another scheduling dilemma: Tuesday night I could either go see Johnny Depp in “The Rum Diaries” or Justin Timberlake in “In Time.” I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve chosen Justin Timberlake over Johnny Depp, but hey, I’ll go with science fiction over gonzo journalism any day.

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You may have noticed there’s been a lot of talk about the unequal distribution of wealth in the world. Writer/director Andrew Niccol examines this hot topic through the time-honored method of science fiction parable.

In the world of “In Time,” it is not cash that is the most desired commodity, but seconds, minutes and hours. It is a world where people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 and die a year later. A luminous clock under the skin of your arm counts down how much time you have.

You can shorten or lengthen your lifespan by buying and selling time. A cup of coffee might cost you 10 minutes of your life; a Starbucks cup might cost an hour. If you work, you are paid in time added to your life clock.

The country is divided into time zones, which are rigidly controlled. At one end is the ghetto, where people live from day to day; at the other end live the rich and powerful — people with hundreds of years to kill.

Will Salas (Timberlake) lives at the wrong end of the time zones. One night at a bar he encounters an immortal who is tired of living, so he gives Will his remaining 100+ years and then dies. Knowing that it’s not safe to live in the ghetto with that much time up your sleeve, Will takes off across the zones into a wealthier, and hopefully safer, location.

The death of an immortal doesn’t go unnoticed, and so the local law enforcement — known as Time Keepers — is called in to investigate. Unfortunately for Will, the agent assigned to the case is the tenacious Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), who is convinced that Will is a killer who has stolen the dead man’s time.

Meanwhile, Will has doubled his lifespan in a high-stakes poker game with Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), one of the richest men alive. Philippe invites the stranger into his home, where Will meets Philippe’s bored, rebellious daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried).

When Raymond crashes the dinner party, Will escapes by taking Sylvia hostage and racing back to the ghetto. As is always the case in these stories, Will and Sylvia fall in love and soon they’re playing Robin Hood — stealing time from the rich (specifically Sylvia’s father) and giving it to the poor.

“In Time” is an interesting, if not especially original, movie. It bears similarities to Niccol’s 1997 film “Gattaca” as well as the 1976 movie “Logan’s Run.” And of course there’s nothing fresh about two young people from different backgrounds who wind up in love and on the lam.

The stark, sterile future setting is nicely done and there are some clever elements to its time-bending theme. For instance, since everyone stops aging at 25, all the adults look the same age even though they aren’t. Which can make for some creepy parent/sibling interactions.

Did it work for me?  I’m a sucker for low-key sci-fi that’s more about ideas than spaceships and lasers, so yes. There are still plenty of chase scenes and gunfire, but this is mainly a movie to make you think.

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