POSTED ON NOVEMBER 2, 2011:
Art Imitates Life
Time is ticking and Rum needs a better flow
In the realm of science fiction ideas, the hook that drives the new Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show) written and directed film, In Time seems like something that might have sprung from the pen of a Titan. So dystopian a concept it is: that time itself has become a currency that everyone has a certain amount that can be earned, borrowed or stolen. It must have been thought of by Phillip K. Dick or Issac Asimov or Harlan Ellison. Or someone.
Oh...according to a pending lawsuit, Harlan Ellison believes Niccol might have read his 1965 short-tale, "Repent, Harlequin!" which deals with strikingly similar themes.
At least I'm not crazy. Futuristic ideas like this don't just pop up in the 21st Century (unless you are a part of the Spanish New Wave -- see: Sleep Dealer and Timecrimes). Time is literally money. It's so simple an idea yet rich with possibilities that it had to have been thought of during an era when there was a lot less noise; when people had more time to imagine.
With In Time, "time" for imagination is the only luxury of the poor. They have to constantly think of ways to stay alive, if even for a few hours longer.
In the not too distant future, mankind has been able to arrest the aging process at age 25 (not that you'd know it from most of the cast). But that genetic engineering, and the ostensible end of death from most diseases it represents, comes at a price. Once hitting 25 the person has one year left to live.
Their time is denoted by an LCD-like clock that everyone has embedded on their left arms. In their right wrists -- because wrist wrestling actually becomes important -- there are implants to enable the transferring of time as currency, either between two people, or for utilitarian purposes like receiving a salary (in the case of the cops it's a per diem) or paying for goods and services, whatever. Society is built around the ticking seconds they can always see. And while the poor are always scraping by, the rich can theoretically live forever.
The One Percent.
Enter Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) a poor kid working to support his mom (Olivia Wilde) in the crime ridden 12th Zone, where the poorest are segregated by time economics. Will is trying to get enough time to send his mother to New Greenwich, a veritable Martha's Vineyard of Zones. But the system is gamed against them all. Just when everyone gets a bit of extra time, the price of everything goes up.
When Will meets Henry (Matt Bomer) in a seedy bar with over a hundred years of time -- displayed on his wrist for all to see -- he saves the seemingly clueless rich guy from certain robbery and death, only to learn Henry is sick of life after a hundred years and is trying to die. When Will wakes up the next day, Henry is dead and he has hit the lottery: an extra century of life.
Of course that only makes him the target of a squad of Timekeepers -- in essence, monetary cops -- headed by Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) who believes Will murdered Henry for his time. It also puts him in the sights of an even seedier horde of criminals led by Fortis (Alex Pettyfer), who wants back the time Will was given, that they meant to steal for themselves.
Allegory, it is said, is a backbone for great science fiction. In that sense In Time is rife with allegories that seem presciently timed for the Occupy Movement. Economic inequality may be measured by minutes instead of dollars but the disparities are the same and exacerbated by the exponentially more expensive "zones" that segregate the country. While The 99 Percent struggle within a caste system, living every moment to get more time, The 1 Percent enjoy bank accounts loaded with millions of years they'll never enjoy because they fear falling prey to a natural death.
Writer, producer and director, Andrew Niccol has a predilection for this type of material and his efforts have resulted in brainy, slightly arty highs (Gattaca) and misfired lows (S1m0ne). In Time is in the middle, a flick filled with some neat ideas brought to life by formless characters and with a sluggishly heavy directorial hand. Even master cinematographer Rodger Deakins work here can be described as decent. When does that ever happen?
Niccol hammers the subtexts into a glaringly obvious sheen, which has always been a problem for him -- particularly with Lord of War -- but here robs what could have been a much more nuanced narrative of a sense of depth. It was something he did better in Gattaca, where Jude Law and Ethan Hawke felt like real characters in a real world. With In Time, the film's thin characters and lackadaisical plotting, combined with Niccol's lumbering direction drain the momentum, making the occasional action scenes where Timberlake suddenly becomes Neo seem even more incongruous.
Ridley Scott (or, if miracles existed David Cronenberg) would have worked wonders with this story. Jeremy Renner would have made for a better Will. Timberlake has a decent screen presence but he plays Will with no depth and shares little chemistry with Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), the kidnapped daughter of a time banker who Will targets in a Robin Hood-esque play to spread the wealth. The mostly baked screenplay by Niccol could have used some more time in the oven and a rewrite by Paul Verhoven.
In Time could have been something really good given some different cooks in the kitchen.
The Rum Diary
Johnny Depp has a clear affinity for Hunter S. Thompson. The Rum Diary represents the second time Depp has portrayed the late, great gonzo journalist on film after 1998's underloved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
But those looking for a dose of Terry Gilliam's cinematic self-indulgence will be a bit let down by writer/director Bruce Robinson's adaptation of Hunter's fictionalized adventures in Puerto Rico in 1960. His alter-ego, Paul Kemp (Depp) is a much earlier version of Thompson. This Thompson is still finding his voice. Still formulating his ethics.
They come into play when Kemp, after being hired by the editor of the San Juan Star, Edward Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) catches the eye of a local business magnate, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who wants to hire Kemp to write promo materials for a shady business venture. Kemp has also caught the attention of Sanderson's catastrophically hot fiancée, Chenault (Amber Heard), a wild child whose boredom with her beau's business dealings fuel her interest in the weird, perpetually drunk writer.
Befriended by the paper's photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli) Kemp -- who is tasked with writing horoscopes -- finds a bigger story to be told in the murky political and business dealings of Sanderson and some corrupt government officials.
Drawn in by the prospect of a story his editor won't print, and the wiles of Chenault who seemingly delights in his wild-card mystique, Kemp finds himself when he decides to turn the tourist-rag paper into a bona fide news outlet, with or without the management's help.
Writer/director Bruce Robinson, adapting Thompson's novel, enjoyed stratospheric levels of cult fandom thanks to his acerbically funny, smart and foul 1988 film Withnail & I. It would seem to make a nice fit for Thompson's sardonic perspective.
But Robinson doesn't really stick the landing. The plotting meanders into some nice individual moments like the bourgeoning friendship between Kemp and Sala, played out in slummy bars and their dilapidated crash pad or the playfully sexy flirtations bantered with Chenault. It's atmospheric and the frame often drips in palpable humidity.
Gilliam's Fear and Loathing is certainly guilty of a meandering plot (as was the case with the source) but Gilliam made up for that (or damned the film, depending on your perspective) with his singularly over-the-top style. Robinson almost shoots this like a gritty, sweat-soaked Elmore Leonard yarn, without the wicked timing or dimensional characters -- though Giovanni Ribisi, as Kemp's rum-eaten, acid head predecessor, Moburg provides some of the few comedic moments that really connect and the only performance that feels somewhat inspired.
Sure Richard Jenkin's is great as Lotterman, and Depp is channeling the alter-ego of Thompson as only he can. Rispoli as Sala acts as the pre-Dr. Gonzo proto sidekick but lives in the shadow of Benicio del Toro's weird and disturbing portrayal. No one is bad here, just misused.
And The Rum Diary is by no means bad, either. It might have a shot at cult status if repeated viewings under the right chemical conditions endear its somewhat amusing parts. But the whole lacks punch, and Robinson's execution only hints at a depth in Thompson's world that might be unattainable by any means other than picking up a book.
Send all comments and feedback regarding Cinema to firstname.lastname@example.org.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A44033