If it's crap ... We'll tell you
The Robin Hood story meeting Bonnie & Clyde meeting The Fugitive meeting classic '70s sci-fi noir is a lot better than how it sounds. This movie is actually better than some people are saying because the script and story is solid and it has a lot of really good ideas. The problem with this film is the directing and the editing because it's longer than it should be and the pacing isn't awful but it definitely could've picked it up in order to keep the suspense going for the type of movie that it's trying to be.
Living in a world where time is everything and the social equilibrium or lack thereof being dependent on obtaining and trying to maintain that abstract substance in order to survive and maintain order and a steady worldwide population is actually fascinating to think about. It also raises a lot of good questions in terms of immortality and what it means to really live one's life but somehow the world Andrew Niccol is trying to sell is kind of cheap ironically enough. He's trying to present a future where the rich and wealthy in time and experience live prosper existences and the working class and the poor are struggling each and every day to survive but it never completely shows the real side of things. It all looks too glossy especially in the ghettos where everything is supposed to be dirty, filthy and more or less wearing down. Granted the cinematography by Roger Deakins is gorgeous and it definitely feels appropriate whenever we visit New Greenwich where the wealthy go about their lives in high style but its look make the ghettos look like a cleaner version of Detroit in 8 Mile. It's understandable that the look is trying to be consistent but everything just looks too clean and too slick for it to be worth a damn. By looking too much like a Gucci commercial all the time, it gives off the feeling that everything will be okay regardless of what happens and for this kind of story involving mistaken identity (sort of) and a man trying to fight against the system and bring it down, it just feels cheap because we aren't getting a substantial feeling that everything could come crashing down on Will Salas (Justin Timberlake).
When it comes to the performances, everyone does well with the material and the characters they've been given. By this point, Justin Timberlake has already proven himself with The Social Network, Black Snake Moan and Alpha Dog but he gets a lot of unfair criticism. He does well carrying this movie and it's evident that he probably watched a fair amount of Die Hard or even The Fugitive to get the idea of Will Salas down and it's a good character to play. Albeit it's a little stock but everyone roots for an underdog fighting against a corrupt system who's wronged for something he didn't do and the way they use him here isn't bad at all especially if this movie wants to appeal to the masses and it's attempting to be an allegory for the modern political, social or economic climate. Amanda Seyfried does fine with Sylvia Weis in being that little girl looking for adventure when she lives in a world where that's considered a dangerous thing but the part of the film focusing on the chemistry between Will and Sylvia falls apart because it never really seems like there is any good reason as to why these two people would be attracted to each other. Sure they're both beautiful people and they're both looking towards the opposite side of the glass wall that's separating them from the world they want to live in but besides that, the romance seems forced just so we can have a love angle in the story to bring in a good portion of the audience that prefer romantic subplots in their films. Johnny Galecki from The Big Bang Theory has a fun little cameo as Will Salas's best friend and unlike the stylish look of the ghettos, he looks really roughed up and if the ghettos looked as rough as he did then the plot would've been a lot more plausible and I'll give him extra credit for at least trying to get to the realism that should be there for this kind of farfetched parallel universe. Vincent Kartheiser and Cillian Murphy both do great work in this as Philippe Weis and Timekeeper Raymond Leon and they both show that these characters do have some dimension and have legitimate reasons for doing the things that they do even though some of their actions could be considered immoral. Yet out of all the characters, I thought that Fortis played by Alex Pettyfer was the most interesting. A old Minuteman gangster who's just the mean, rotten, dirty, selfish, low down son of a bitch who will steal time at any given opportunity. Like Timberlake, it seems Alex Pettyfer has been getting a bad rep as well but his performance was actually solid because he really does come off as this smug and rotten pig but there is a little gleam of charm in his eye that makes a great villain that people love to hate. Pettyfer is being criticized as being just a pretty boy actor but he's certainly doing a lot better than Ed Speleers who took up the role he was offered for in Eragon. Where is Ed Speleers at this point in comparison to Pettyfer? Sure, some people may not like him right now for the kinds of roles he's getting or how he's came off through some of them but next he's working with Steven Soderbergh in Magic Mike so if he's able to impress a director of that calibre, he's potentially here to stay and perhaps after working with Soderbergh he will be a much better actor since he is one of the few directors that really elevates actors' abilities while working with them that will last. Plus his role in this was different from the one he played in I Am Number Four. So at least he's trying to stretch himself and personally, I thought he pulled off being the charming yet snobby villain convincingly.
Despite the solid cast and all of that, a big problem is that the editor should've been put to work more to really cut down the love story to a minimum because the love story really drags down what could've been a really solid sci-fi thriller. When it shows the thriller aspects of it involving the chases or the run-ins with both the Timekeepers and the Minutemen (cops and robbers of this movie) and the everyday guy trying to survive and give everyone their fair share of time, the movie is really solid and it plays out very well but since there's little chemistry between Sylvia and Will and little reason or explanation of why they should be falling for each other, the romantic scenes really drag it down and its the last thing a thriller should actually be doing. Now there have also been complaints that the history of things becoming this way where time is currency is never explained or explored but if the movie focused too much on trying to explain the economics and mechanics of it all, the audience would be less interested because some people who just don't understand economics as well as other people would be left confused as to how everything got there. It's straight and to the point about the situation and it leaves the history of the world to the imagination because for someone like me who becomes confused every time somebody tries to explain economics, it would just be tough to grasp how logical this futuristic world seems if it were considered a possibility of actually happening. The allegory of this film is probably the strongest point of this film because it very much reflects the times to today without ever saying anything blatant about it. The action however is kind of lackluster because of the relative realism they've set up and the script being too afraid to really allow more inventive set pieces to occur but since this is a film that seems to focus more on character and plot rather than action, I can't really complain too much about that.
All in all, it's a great concept, it has some really strong ideas, it's relevant and the majority of the actors bring a realism to the outlandishness of this world but the problem is that it's too busy trying to appeal to everyone and it borrows quite a lot from other sources in order to offer an original take on the present sociological climate of today to really be considered that much greater. I got enough out of this film to recommend to some people for at least one viewing because it really does talk a lot about the current situations going on right now in our culture. Also what this film does to make up for its derivative feel is done really well. The movie looks gorgeous even though it looks like a Gucci or Armani commercial the whole time and never tries to really show a dirtier world outside of New Greenwich and the ideas of this film present an interesting thinking discussion. The shame is that it tries to deliver much more on its lesser areas of importance that it dilutes the potential greatness that this film could have achieved if it were singularly focused on its main goals.