Monthly Archives: November 2011

My Ten Cents On: In Time

In Time is a film set some time in the future where people stop aging at 25, but in order to stay alive they have to earn the only thing worth any value, time. Food costs minutes, tolls costs months, and sports cars cost half a century. You work or you die in this cut throat work where you have to do everything you can to make sure you don’t go broke. The movie follows Will Salas, an impoverished young man (he’s 25 + 2, so that still makes him pretty young) who gets his hands on a huge sum of time, is accused of murder and kidnapping. Realizing that the system they live in is wrong, he and his hostage-turned-partner, Sylvia Weis turn their attention on fighting against the oppresive system that brings a whole new meaning to “time management”. I’m skipping a lot of details here, as I usually do, since I’m leaving out a lot of the plot twists.

When I saw this film, I thought that it would have gone either one of two ways. It could go the sci-fi route and explore the societal and cultural changes that would arise out of a world where time is a commodity, where you could see your life ticking away on your arm, where those who live by the day would literally live “everyday like it was the last day of your life” and people who were immortal would, since time is no object, learn to become every-men, developing skills such as writing symphonies, perfecting martial arts, learning every language available, memorizing every single permutation of Minesweeper so as to be perfect at it, you know, the stuff I would think immortal people would do.

The other way the movie would have gone was to be a straight up action flick, where the time is money symbolism was all there was to it and the rest of the movie was about the cool action sequences. Little did I know how right I was. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s get on with the review.

+ Cillian Murphy

When I thought about what I liked about this movie, the first thing that popped into my head was Cillian Murphy. The dude has a piercing look of intensity in his eyes that made him perfect for the role he played, a “Time Cop” named Raymond Leon, who despite looking like he’s in his 20’s has seen everything that a 70 year old veteran cop sees, and who is right on the heels of the lead character if only because of his grit and determination.

I'll stare at you, and you will like it.

This was right up his alley. I’m glad he’s climbing up the ladder of success, and that he’s been taking roles that suited him perfectly. He’s come a long way from lying naked in a hotel bed, waking up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. (If you think The Walking Dead did it first, you should probably watch 28 Days Later as soon as you are able.) Anyway, the man has some serious talent and it doesn’t hurt that he has a stare that says: “I’m sucking your soul out from your eyeballs.”

+ Cinematography

This movie had some great shots. I won’t say the whole movie was a masterclass of filming, but it had a lot of great moments. The action scenes, especially had a nice flair to them. The big stunts were shown with a level of grace and clarity, of which I’m personally a fan. I mean, why spend so much money on a car chase, when you shoot most of it with a shaky camera so its hard to make anything out? When I’m given a big stunt, I want to see it from multiple angles, to relish in the carnage.

Say what you will about the rest of the film, the action scenes looked great.

This is where the cinema of attraction comes in. Cinema of Attraction is a term dubbed way back in the early 1900’s to capture simply that, that cinema was made for stunts, and visuals, not anything deeper, thus considered cheap entertainment (as compared to Operas and plays which still held the attention of the upper class). Basically cinema of attraction was people gathering in a nickelodeon (the first types of movie theaters, and ironically, one of the last place a parent would bring their kids because of the crowd it drew) and watching Thomas Edison electrocuting an elephant, or watch Zorro knock a guy off of the roof of a two story fort. This legacy of heading to the movies just to gawk at the screen and go, ‘ooooohh’ and ‘aaaaaahh’ at all the amazing pictures on screen has been going on for over a hundred years, and is still going strong today. The problem with a lot of modern films is that they’re more concerned with realism and putting you in the middle of everything, than to give you a bird’s eye view so that your eyes can enjoy the visual feast.

Great composition and camera work is just as important as the location you're shooting in

When watching In Time, you will spend a great amount of time gawking at the screen, and that is awesome. Good filming covers over a multitude of sins, and that was the case here. The average movie goer would come in, and leave the film thinking it was one of the best ones they’ve seen this year. That’s because these action scenes are shot so well and memorably, that you’ll come out remembering this awesomeness while the not-so-amazing scenes will just disappear from memory. Hell, you may even find yourself reminiscing a certain scene even while you’re still watching the rest of the movie. That’s how good the cinematography on the stunt work was, and the fact that I remember some scenes from In Time so vividly is a testament to the quality of its filming. They should definitely be considered for a nomination at the Taurus Stunt Awards. But despite how good the shooting was, it wouldn’t look anywhere as good if it weren’t for the content of their filming.

+ Costume/Set/Props/Location

It takes a lot of work to find a place that looks both impoverished and pretty

I really appreciated all the background work that went into this movie. They had the right balance of sci-fi and reality for the type of movie they were in. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching movies that show an alternate reality where in 50 years we’ll be in space, fighting giant bug aliens for colonies outside of the galaxy. But its great to see a movie that doesn’t try to go too far with the sci-fi.

They found some really nice locations for this movie.

With all things considered, I’m pretty sure that we’ll still be occupying a lot of the same skyscrapers and buildings fifty years from now, we’ll probably have some new technology, but we probably won’t have plasma rifles and shields, or fully sentient robotic servants that are mass produced and available for everyone from the lower middle-class and up. When you look at the impoverished areas in In Time, apart from the technology related to the time currency, there aren’t too many sci-fi elements, which I think was an excellent choice on the part of the set design.

Actually, all through this movie, the sci-fi element is never overbearing and in fact feels very muted. In fact, if there was any problem with it, it was that they didn’t play up the sci-fi element up as much.

– The Plot

A lot of Hollywood movies follow the typical Three-Act structure, with the first act setting up the situation, the backdrop, establishing the idea of what is “normal” in the scope of the world. The second is the introduction of the conflict, where the character meets with an obstacle that changes his course out of what we perceive to be their “norm”. The third one is when the conflict is resolved and the character settles back into their old/new status quo. If this path sounds familiar, well, it should. It’s been used for thousands of years, dating back to the Aristotle’s Poetics.

On a side note, this is why I don’t really put much stock into comments of people saying: “This movie is so new and innovative.” I’ll concede to new camera angles, and maybe new innovations in costumes or one technical aspect or other, but never as a whole, and rarely ever innovative in its story. I don’t expect Hollywood to tell me a story I’ve never heard before, I leave that to experimental and art film. When looking at Hollywood films, the devil is in the details, and I think this movie skipped out on a few details here.

In Time had a decent first act. The movie started out with a tone of normal people in a normal world, where the only difference is that the currency used the world over is the time to live. Will, played by Justin Timberlake, buys coffee, goes to work like a normal person. Then something tragic happens to him, which you would be able to guess if you… I don’t know, watched THE TRAILER! (Trailers like this are another pet peeve of mine. I mean no offense to the late, great Don La Fontaine, but I miss watching movies without knowing a single thing that was gonna happen, and some trailers take it too far and give away vital plot points and key moments. Sorry I had to get that out of my system. I’ll write my own rant about that in another post, if I feel like it)

Anyway, that first act is fine, and as a set up, its all good. The problem is when they hit the second act. Will finds himself in the rich world, and he does this weird thing. He looks at his watch, starts running, then stops, and walks into the hotel. Later on, Leon gets reports of a man who going around without body guards (since for the rich, the only way to die is through a random act of violence, they have guards constantly) and tends to run was seen in the rich time zone. The whole point was that rich people, with so much time on their hands travel very slowly, whereas the impoverished, given their little amounts of time, tend to run around more.

This would have been very interesting, if in the first act we saw more people RUNNING and living life on edge. It also would have helped if you had someone dying  early on in the film without his number going down to zero. This would have set up the whole “deathly scared of a random act of violence” subplot and would have helped to establish that it wasn’t just the timer that could kill.

Why introduce that concept in the second act, when you never set it up in the first? Why dip your toes in the sci-fi pool if you’re not gonna take the whole plunge? It would have been better if you had stuck to the concept of a “normal world with time as the currency” without bringing in the social and philosophical aspect if you were going to introduce it like that. And it’s not the only time the movie leaves an intriguing societal/ethical dilemma hanging.

Later on, Will meets with Sylvia‘s father, Philippe. When Will sees Sylvia for the first time, Philippe says something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘it’s kind of disconcerting isn’t it? the thoughts going through your head. Is she my wife, is she my daughter? Could she be a hundred years older than you?’ And I was like, damn! This is going to be a great side plot to explore! The interactions of the young and the old, and the mystery and taboo about asking someone their age. How you can tell an old 25 year old from a young 25 year old.

Then Philippe goes: ‘Luckily, she is my daughter, let me introduce you.’ And they NEVER mention the question again. It felt like the script went through a couple of re-writes where the original script was thought provoking and strongly sci-fi, and the studios executives said: “This isn’t good enough! Make it more Action-y! But keep that line, its good.

Grand Mother, Mother, Daughter. Could have been more than a gimmick

Like I said before, chances are, most casual movie-goers will forgive this and even forget about this moment of awkward dialogue, and remember all the other good parts of this movie, and I admit that I still had a great time watching this movie despite the stutter step into sci-fi. But as a film lover, it did bother me. They just tip-toed into deeper thought territory and scurried back over to action, and that wishy-washy play with the plot kinda took a bit of a hit for me. Either be that action-packed cross between Robin Hood and Bonnie and Clyde, or be that Sci-Fi movie that examines the moral code of man in this capitalistic world, as well as the issues of youth vs. experience, rich vs. poor, etc. Taking a shaky path in between doesn’t work well. In that sense, its a good thing that 75% of the movie was the Robin Hood/Bonnie and Clyde stuff, so at least, for the most part, the movie was consistent, but it brought up questions and side plots that just didn’t go anywhere, and gave the movie the feeling of ending flat.

– Will Salas and Sylvia Weiss

I’m not going to harp on Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried as bad actors. That’s not my deal here. I felt that probably due to some bad mix of writing, acting, and acting direction, (*note the mix being bad, not the individual elements in themselves) I became disinterested in the lead couple of the movie. I found myself caring about the character of Raymond Leon and his plot more than that of the lead, and that was disappointing. Any decent action movie has a good action scene or two, it takes a great action movie to have a memorable main conflict and lead characters.

"Cry me a river, b*tch."

Five years from now, we won’t remember the names of the characters in this movie, nor any lines from it. In Time didn’t have anything compared to John McClane‘s “Yippie-Ka-Yay, Motherf**ker” or The Terminator‘s “I’ll Be Back“. And while the lines were cool, they probably wouldn’t have the cult status they have now if they weren’t attached to some momentous conflict involving a main character who inspire us. In Time failed to deliver that. It’s still a good movie, but it won’t be a great one.

My Cent’s Worth: 6.5/10

It was a pleasant experience to watch this in the cinema. Its definitely worth watching at least once. I don’t know if you can go back to it over and over again, but I’d like to think that if you keep a light attitude and are just up for some light entertainment, this movie would be right up your alley. Sci-fi junkies should be a little wary about this movie though.