Andrew Niccol: All concept, no substance?


By Caitlin Gardner

Andrew Niccol’s In Time is like most of the director’s previous works in that the concept is certainly bound to intrigue the audience.

How much there is to say beyond the concept that varies in his movies is difficult to say. His last science fiction film, S1m0ne, about a producer who makes a Hollywood starlet computer engineered, was very much all concept, as the rest of the film folded like a house of cards.

Actually, even one of Niccol’s better films, Gattaca, was mostly the concept of a world in which children were all born genetically engineered, rather than a real undertaking of the human condition.

In contrast, as science fiction is a genre in which such portrayals are possible, Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is the most recent poignant triumph with similar themes.

Therefore, In Time is very much the same story as Niccol’s other films.  High concept, beautiful palatte and gorgeous people all well tailored and well dressed, the subtlety of a sledgehammer bashing its audience in the head with its issues and themes, and almost nothing beyond that.

However, what makes In Time ultimately fail is the fact that Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried cannot help elevate the script’s lame, rushed attempt at making this sci-fi’s answer to their own version of Bonnie and Clyde.

Like all of Niccol’s films, the dangers of ‘playing God’ come into play and this time, yet again, it is science that is the guilty party.

In 2161, all the people in the world have been genetically modified to not age beyond twenty-five, which gives the film a real eeriness until Niccol does not even care to take it as seriously.

When people hit twenty-five, they are now given approximately a year to live with a digital timer ticking off on their forearm.

There are, however, ways of manipulating the system and its name is money. The rich live longer, while the poor live shorter.

This is where the film’s politics on inequality comes in and if it were just slightly a bit more subtle and not repeated over and over with so much dialogue, I would be a lot more positive about this film.

Timberlake’s character, Will Salas, drones on about this unfair system, even as he gets a special gateway into the world of the rich after earning 100 years of time from a rich man (Matt Bomer) who lost his will to live.

He ends up kidnapping the daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of richest man in the world, leading to a cat and mouse game chase with a policeman ‘Time Keeper’ (played by the always reliable Cillian Murphy).

But by the third act, the film really loses its footing and feels like an origin story for outlaws of the future.

In Time is a self-righteous, pretentious film that if not for the sleek look of the film, with set pieces and costumes that mirror the sci-fi French New Wave directors Truffaut and Godard (Fahrenheit 451 and Alphaville  respectively), it is just a pretty movie with nothing beyond concept.

The themes of inequality and class warfare are Politics 101, but nothing too deep when Niccol could have gone deeper or conveyed a much deeper sense of doom and dread in this dystopia plated around a new gilded age.


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