This is the draw of Sci-Fi. You get to explore how a concept creates a world. Or alters a world like our own. Or what it reveals about our world. Peoples' bodies are infiltrated and taken over by aliens, how does this affect society? Machines have taken over the world and are harvesting humans and keep the humans passive by hooking them up to a digital world, what happens? Robots serve humans and now they are all monitored by one central mainframe, what could go wrong? Advanced, manufactured robo-humans have returned to Earth after an uprising and are angry they only have a four year life span so want to kill their maker out of vengeance--are we not, in a way, in the same soon-to-die position, would we do the same, or find a better way to use what life we have left?
In Time has an original concept (unless you count Harlan Ellison's short story "'Repent Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman" as the original concept and In Time a rip-off, as Harlan Ellison has (he's suing)(he dropped the suit after seeing the movie)). But most of the action and elements are cliche.
Will's Writer, Director: Andrew Niccol
Will Salas: Justin Timberlake
Will's girl: Amanda Seyfried
Will's mom: Olivia Wilde
Will's pursuer #1: Cillian Murphy
Will's best friend: Johnny Galecki
Will's girl's father: Vincent Kartheiser
Will's pursuer #2: Alex Pettyfer
Will's benefactor: Matt Bomer
The story is the usual: character goes from having nothing (phase 1), having everything (phase 2), having everything taken away (phase 3), returning to how he/she was before and finding strength in that state of being (phase 4), and finally achieving a type of victory (phase 5).
The Waterboy did this. Sky High did this. D2: The Mighty Ducks did a variation of this (normal, change, collapse, revert to normal, victory). Little Big League did this. Angels in the Outfield did this. OH. The best example: Avatar.
And a bunch of others that I can't think of at the moment. Air Bud.
I will give In Time credit because the film transitions quickly from one phase to the next. The first half is really "having nothing", "having everything", "having everything taken away". And the second half is "returning and finding strength" and "victory". Most films that use this formula spend 75% of the film in the first three phases and spend the last quarter (usually 15-30 min) in "returning" and "victory".
Avatar made this structure work by lingering in each section. Its run time is 162 minutes. You could pretty well guess the trajectory of Jake Sulley's story, but the content of each phase was compelling enough (why we watch Fantasy/Sci-Fi) that many didn't think about or care about the cliche structure.
In Time could have taken more time (not a pun) and boosted its length from 109 minutes to 130 and given us more of what's going on.
As is, I was happy to see Niccol spend half the movie in Phases 4 & 5 (well, it's mostly Phase 4, Phase 5 is really the last five minutes). Most critics aren't. Most RT Top Critics thought the second half devolved. I had thought the film would linger in Phase 2, so when it rushed past Phase 2 into Phase 3, I was intrigued, then enjoyed how it stewed in Phase 4.
2. So much of the movie can be described as other movies
Phase 1: Logan's Run + Bambi
Phase 2: The Prince and the Pauper + Casino Royale
Phase 3: Knight and Day
Phase 4: Bonnie & Clyde + Robin Hood
Phase 5: The Matrix
Maybe this is unfair. There are only so many ways to tell a story. Of course there will be overlaps. But I didn't feel like the actions were new or unique or an interesting variation. I continually thought "I've seen this before."
There is, again, a caveat. The individual elements may be reminiscent of other movies. Add them up, however, and you get a movie that feels familiar but is its own beast. So the newness/uniqueness/variation isn't on a micro-level but on the larger scale. The original premise combined with the amalgamated plot wins the favor of some, the familiarity and lack of backstory for said "original premise" displeases others, which is probably why this movie has a 53% at Metacritic (5.7 user score), a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes (56% user score), and a 6.7 on IMDB.
Note: Metacritic aggregated 36 critics, where as RT had 142. IMDB is all user votes.
3. A pivotal scene from early in the movie is repeated for the climax
Imagine a movie about baseball and the opening segment is the last game of the 2014 baseball season and whichever team wins goes to the playoffs. The hero comes up to bat because someone just got injured. It's the bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded (let's get cliche). He strikes out. The guy feels bad. Vows to get better. He comes back the next season and does awesome. The team reaches the same spot, last game of the season (2015), whichever team wins goes to the playoffs. The hero comes up to bat. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded. This time he hits a home run.
This sort of story structure, the scenario that produced an early failure comes again as the climactic moment only this time the hero succeeds, is "okay" on a logical level. It completes the character's "journey" by showing the character was able to grow. Or that something has changed. But it's also easy. Very, very, very easy. And simple. It's as cliche to me as a story ending with the character boarding a plane, train or boat, and moving on to some next adventure. (Looking at you Alice in Wonderland).
In Time does this.
4. There is so much corny "time" dialogue
A lot of the dialogue, the slang, lingo and names of things have to do with "time". I found it cartoonish and hokey. "You're taking forever." "I haven't got all day." The police are called "Timekeepers". The rich area is called New Greenwich (which doubles as a reference to the ritzy area of Connecticut and to Greenwich Mean Time). When you die from your time running out you've "clocked out". All the dialogue is spoken naturally enough that some viewers may not notice the irony when someone says "I don't have time for this."
On first viewing, these things really stood out and bothered me. I may not care as much on a second viewing? It may bother you less than it bothered me.
But I thought Niccol fit in about every reference to time he could. It's like a movie that takes every opportunity to say "that's what she said!" Not only that, the movie is set-up in a way that there are "that's what she said" moments at least once a minute, sometimes more. I GET IT, TIME IS A MAJOR THEME. Shut the fuck up already. (I was very bothered).
So the premise is great, but the film is so shackled by the premise that characters rarely say anything that doesn't have to do with time (and the philosophy thereof). Which stops the diegetic world from achieving multiple dimensions, keeps the characters from unflattening.
(Note: I thought the actors all did a good job of bringing nuance to their roles, which added depth the script didn't allow them. Olivia Wilde was very motherly. Her tone of voice, her expressions. I could feel the age gap between her and Timberlake, even though they both looked the same age. Same with Timberlake and Kartheiser. Karth is supposed to be 90 years old, and I felt the difference between him and Timberlake (supposed to be 28) as well. Seyfried matched Timberlake. I thought Murphy brought the most to his character (which is probably because Murphy is the strongest actor in the film (arguably)) If you saw the movie, I'd like to know if you agree with this or not, so, please, comment).
Niccol obviously had a point he was trying to make with this film (about wealth, about living), and he stuck to that point. But that doesn't necessarily make for the best story or dialogue or character development or movie. But his point is food for thought.
So we can argue that nearly every element of In Time is cliche. Another example: the guy who gives Timberlake 116 years (thus transitioning the movie from Phase 1 to Phase 2) has committed suicide by doing so, and he goes and sits on a bridge until his time expires, it does, and he falls, a total allusion to people who commit suicide by jumping from a bridge).
How then can a movie overcome cliche? The same way the musician Girl Talk overcomes copyright infringement.
Niccol has essentially done the same thing with In Time. He's taken bits of plot from other stories and genres and arranged them in such a way that he's created a new story.
Is it revolutionary? Is it essential? I don't think so.
Is it like Girl Talk--entertaining if you're into the kind of music that is sampled? Yes.
Did I Like It:
Sort of. Yes. I liked it the way you like a B-movie. I wasn't impressed. I didn't think "this is an amazing movie" the way I did with, say, The Matrix.
Critics keep talking about the "amazing' cinematography by Roger Deakins. Deakins is the cinematography for every Coen Brothers movie. I'm a fan of 90% of the movies he's worked on (Wall-E, How to Train Your Dragon, The Reader, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, every Coen Brothers movie). But I wouldn't go so far to call his work here "amazing". Or even near emulating the other movies he's worked on. Could be that Niccol's didn't want to use or didn't have the eye to shoot the kind of shots that Deakins provides the Coens. There were some shots in In Time that I thought were artsy for the Sci-Fi genre, but nothing that wowed me.
People are saying Timberlake isn't an action-star no matter how hard this movie wants him to be. This isn't an action movie? It's Sci-Fi with some active moments. But it's not like...Under Siege or Eraser. I don't think Timberlake was bad.
There was one scene that, when it ended, I thought: whoa, that was cool. And it's the conclusion of the showdown between Timberlake and gang leader Alex Pettyfer (oh, yeah, the gang is called the "Minutemen")(smh). The action just...happens. BOOM. It was the one moment of the film that truly shocked me.
I thought Amanda Seyfried was awesome. How she spoke was completely strange to me. I wanted her to just...keep talking. I liked her wardrobe as well (the blue dress for the party was my favorite). The bob hair cut, too. I'm not a fan of her previous movies (Mean Girls aside), but now I want to see what she does next. (Though I just checked the details of her next four movies (via IMDB) and none of the movies appeal to me, nor do the directors).
I didn't care that there's no explanation of HOW people stop aging at 25.
What It's Good For:
-guys and girls
-fans of Niccol's other work: Gattaca, S1M0NE. (I think this is too far removed to drop The Truman Show).
-lacks a backstory to justify the premise (we don't get a history lesson like the one Morpheus gave Neo)
-if you're a hardcore Conservative. The underlying-Robin Hood notion of this movie, it's odd affinity to the Occupy movement (since this movie was made before Occupy started), will really get your goat.
% Character / % Actor's personality
Seyfried: 100/0 (she really impressed me)
Murphy: 100/0 (I think Murphy really thought he was the character; reminded me of Philip Seymour Hoffman at times)
Wilde: 90/10 (quality appearance)
Pettyfer: 90/10 (quiet guy, goes loud)
Galecki: 35/65 (the type of role I would expect from him, does well)
Niccol: Gattaca; s1m0ne; The Truman Show
Timberlake: The Social Network
Seyfried: Mean Girls
Murphy: Red Eye; Batman Begins; 28 Days Later; Inception
Wilde: Year One; The Change-Up
Dystopia: Starship Troopers; Strange Days; District 13; Metropolis; Akira; Brazil; Children of Men