In a Hollywood that is famous for buying out talent, Andrew Niccol is among a few surviving auteurs. His films delve into the themes of justice, personal choice over spoon-fed reality and of genetic and technological interference in human life.
With In Time he adds a very timely, topical thriller, albeit one that does not end as good as it builds up.
In the near future, humans have been genetically modified so that they stop ageing at the age of 25. After 25, an internal clock starts in them and time becomes the only currency. A person could practically live forever if he earns time.
Or so the society is made to believe till Will Sallas (Justin Timberlake), a blue collared worker from the ghetto, who is accused of stealing a century from another man, discovers a bigger conspiracy.
Andrew Niccol has always made films on the obsessions of humanity. In The Truman Show that he wrote, he tackles reality TV. Lord of War is about the human fetish for war while his science fiction masterpiece Gattaca is about genetic predetermination and the resulting prejudice.
In Time is inspired by Gattaca. Like in Gattaca, humanity has been genetically modified resulting in the creation of the most perfectly tradable commodity - time and thus our very own life.
In the film, he breaks the last known cliche that rooted for equality; that no matter how rich or poor one was, everyone was equal in one respect--we all eventually die. He asks the question, what if someday we figure out how not to die? What would humans do? Would it lead to equality, or merely replace one unequal social structure with another?
Though set in a dystopian futuristic ghetto, this is a story of our times. Time becomes a metaphor for the unequal distribution of wealth in our own present.
"For a few to be immortal, many must die", a line from the film, can be replaced with: for a few to be insanely rich, many must be made poor. When we look around, that is exactly the state of our world today that is governed by a 'Darwinian Capitalism' as Niccol points out.
There is a structure, a system that has been built that causes great inequity and misery in the world for most while a few flourish. The rich do their best to preserve this system, since they depend on it. The poor, have no option, but to occasionally rise in revolt, like the French and Russian revolutions of the past and 'Arab Spring' and 'Occupy Wall Street' movements now.
The film thus builds a wonderful parable for our insanely unjust world. And a good writer that Niccol is, the film is peppered with witty and incisive writing.
However, unlike his other tighter films, there is an element of inconsistency and lengthiness about this film. It builds up extremely well but misses out on a more forceful ending that his other films manage.
Though it could have been a much darker satire of our times, much like the novel 1984, Niccol also seems to have tempered down the tone. Perhaps Hollywood does that to the best auteurs.
Yet, this won't bother audiences much, as he builds a compelling tale which is very real, despite its science fiction elements. In Time is a very timely and very welcome film from this master.