(Andrew Niccol, 2011)
It may be an obvious, somewhat leaden metaphor for the inequalities of the capitalist economies currently dominating the Western World, but the high concept which is the basis for In Time is also a deft recurrent narrative mechanism. Niccol's film is set in a near future where people have been engineered to cease ageing at 25, at which point an internal clock starts. Time can be bought and sold, earned and stolen, and running out of time means the end of your life. The rich live in Time Zones of marble, steel and glass, requiring months and even years for access, while the poor live and die day by day in run-down, industrial ghettos.
The idea that all of the characters might be minutes from running out and need to find more time works like a little adrenaline jolt to the story, giving it a boost whenever the pace slackens.
But Niccol keeps it quite pacy, turning it into a slightly Hitchcockian man-on-the-run thriller, sketching in the details of his sci-fi World as the plot flies past. That world is a little reminiscent of the world from his superior Gattaca; utilising real, contemporary locations skilfully to suggest this near future. The lovely, pin sharp photography of Roger Deakins helps immeasurably with that process, and is especially impressive at capturing the art deco Noir world of the ghetto after dark, abandoned warehouses and desolate neighbourhoods awash in the yellow glow of streetlights.
Niccol finds a couple of strong set pieces in his material; a fine car chase and a fight for time - akin to an arm wrestle - between Justin Timberlake's hero and Alex Pettyfer's "Minutemen", a gangster who makes his living stealing time from others, and the story does roll along speedily throughout. But the love story between the principals is perhaps the chief component of the third act, and neither of them has much of a character to work with. Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried are empty, pretty wind-up toys here, given motivations but no depth, their actions driven purely by the story, and this is a near-fatal flaw.
There is much good here; from Cillian Murphy's haunted, layered performance as a Time-Keeper after the lovers, to the little ironies and details of Niccol's world - the way everybody runs in the ghetto, the use of the phrase "clean your clock" - to Craig Armstrong's atmospheric, pulsing score; but the void where its two protagonists should be prevents it from ever becoming really excellent.
It remains a well-paced, visually dazzling fun sci-fi thriller, most admirable for its attempt to make the current Ecomomic climate a subject for escapist entertainment.