Mediocre Acting and Inept Script Sinks a Promising Premise in “In Time”


Rating: 5.5/10

In Time

I like to say that I have a favorite film in every genre, but science fiction is one category in which I don’t have a film that I recommend as a “must-see.” I think the reason why is science fiction is far easier to develop a premise than to wrap up the story. Once the plot involves unexplainable phenomenons and time slips, it’s hard to bring the movie to a satisfying conclusion because satisfaction requires comprehension yet the whole movie involves the unexplainable. As a result, I’ve come to think that the best use of science fiction is to use it as a backdrop of an action-thriller rather than as a plot driver in of itself. “In Time” (2011) had the perfect formula for this. Unfortunately, it stumbled in the execution.

The movie takes place sometime in the future when all the sayings about time is literal. Everybody stops aging after turning 25, at which point their internal clock in the arm activates to count down the time people have left to live. Time is money because it is the currency in which people get paid for their labor and for which they pay for their bus ride.

In this world, Will Salas, an idealistic 28-year-old played by Justin Timberlake, has lived day-to-day in the slums since he turned 25, waking up every morning without enough time to survive the day. Salas earns enough money to survive until the next morning by working at a factory owned by Philippe Weis.

Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) lives in a far different world. Living in Greenwich where all of the rich lives, he can live for an eternity by squeezing time from the poor so long as he doesn’t do anything reckless like getting shot in the head. He has a daughter, Sylvia, who finds this way of life boring.

One day, Salas unexpectedly comes into a fortune from a man who gives away his century to live. A timekeeper named Raymond Leon (Cilian Murphy) is convinced Salas stole his time, but before he can take Salas into custody, he takes Sylvia hostage and runs, turning the film into an action chase flick in which Salas and Sylvia run from Leon and try to change the system that they deem unfair.

I didn’t mind that this film kept its goal low because it had a set-up for a great action thriller. The film, though, can’t quite pull it off. The major part of the problem is lackluster acting. Justin Timberlake is not a bad actor, as seen in his small but important role in “The Social Network” (2010), but he’s not good enough to carry an entire movie. He’s clearly out of his element here. Shaving his head and wearing ghetto clothes can’t convincingly turn a former boy band pretty boy into a guy running for his life in the slums.

But Timberlake surprisingly suffers from only an occasional bad delivery, which may have been sufficient to save this film if he had strong support around him. He doesn’t, and Amanda Seyfried, who plays Sylvia Weis, is mostly to blame. She has convinced me that the only reason why I could tolerate her in “Mamma Mia!” (2008) was because the other cast members in that film were so dreadful. Slyvia is supposedly a person who’s looking for an excitement because she’s bored with the thought of living safely for an eternity, but Seyfried’s flat and emotionless performance defies this portrayal.

Nor did the other supporting cast members rise to the occasion. Casing was the most difficult aspect in making this film work because filmmakers needed to hire several great young actors to play characters who were thirty, forty years their senior. A thirty-somewhat year old actor may not be called upon to give a commanding presence much, but Vincent Kartheiser did to play one of the richest man in the world with a 26 year old daughter. He doesn’t come close. But at least I didn’t cringe whenever he came on the screen, which is more than I can say for the performance by Collins Pennie as one of the timekeepers. His limited screen time wasn’t enough to keep me from looking up his name as someone I hope never to see again on screen.

In a film filled with mediocre performances, Cilian Murphy really steals the spotlight. From “Red Eye” (2005), “The Dark Knight” (2008) and “Inception,” (2010), he has shown he’s a very capable actor and in this film, he shows his range. He’s the only actor who managed to convincingly play the character he’s playing. There is a scene where Philippe Weis and Raymond Leon face off in the battle of the billionaire against a lowly-paid public servant. Murphy is the one who comes off as imposing.

Andrew Niccoli of “Gattaca” (1997), who wrote and directed the film, did actors a great disservice because his lazy script and rudderless direction don’t provide materials off of which the actors could have raised their level of performance. There is one clichéd part of the film where Salas comes close to giving up and says, “it’s over” to Sylvia. There is no transition into the scene or out; it’s just thrown in there to propel the movie towards a climax. Nor does the script persuasively develop the romantic relationship between Wil and Sylvia, which is a serious flaw since the whole second half of the film depends on that story arc to make the case for why Wil and Sylvia are working together.

These actors aren’t good enough to save a poor script and vice-versa. The film felt like Niccoli came up with a great premise and thought that was enough to take care of the story and hold each scene together. That’s really a shame because if he put in slightly more effort in polishing the script and being selective with the casting, he could have had an action-thriller to remember. Instead, he left me thinking of what could have been.

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4 Responses to “Mediocre Acting and Inept Script Sinks a Promising Premise in “In Time””


  1. 1 Caitlin March 10, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Sorry to hear this. I was hoping it would at least be entertaining.

    And yeah, Cillian Murphy is fantastic.

    • 2 joesas March 10, 2012 at 9:35 pm

      Caitlin,

      Thanks for reading and posting! I gave it 5.5, which is just in the “good” category. I think you should rent the DVD since it’s out of theaters in the U.S. already, but I think you’ll agree that it was a great premise that was wanting in execution. I think you’ll find it sufficiently entertaining, though.

  2. 3 Jay the Elitist March 17, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I agree with pretty much everything you said unfortunately :(

    • 4 joesas March 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      Jay.

      Yeah, I think “unfortunate” is the key word. The movie could have been great. Instead, it was forgettable.

      You see, we can find common ground!


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