Archive for April, 2012

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Starring- Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Ivan Shvedoff, Anil Kapoor, Lea Seydoux, Josh Holloway

Director- Brad Bird

PG-13- sequences of intense action and violence

Trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0LQnQSrC-g&ob=av3e

MODERN COMMENTARY, NOVEMBER 2015:

It would be interesting to come back to this movie, now that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation got me on board with the style of this particular series in a way that I hadn’t been before.

Between the overwhelmingly positive reviews, the almost immediately greenlit sequel, and the fact that it’s, you know, directed by Brad Bird, my expectations for “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” were unreasonably high for a franchise that has thus far been resoundingly okay. And maybe that’s what went wrong.

Maybe I was expecting something other than what I got. Maybe I was expecting something other than what it is. Maybe I was transferring too much of what I’ve come to anticipate from Brad Bird’s work to a project that wasn’t as firmly in his control. Maybe I’ve just plain outgrown this type of thing. I don’t know.

But I didn’t leave “Ghost Protocol” echoing the critical consensus, that it’s not only easily the best “Mission: Impossible” movie but perhaps the best action movie of the year. I left thinking that it was okay. Par for the course. It’s worth watching on its own, but it barely justifies the effort I took to see the other three films so as to prepare myself for it.

This time, we find IMF (Impossible Mission Force) Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in Russia, attempting to avert a nuclear catastrophe. A disgraced former politician (Michael Nyqvist) believes the world needs cleansing and that a nuclear war would be as good a tool as any toward that end.

When Hunt is implicated in a terrorist attack, the entire IMF is disavowed by the U.S. government. Hunt is left only with his team in Russia—Jane Carter (Paula Patton), a field agent who lost a friend early in the mission; Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), a sporadically competent tech wizard; and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), a wayward analyst with a past.

With the IMF gone, they are all that’s left to stop a nuclear attack against the United States.

I suppose, before launching into a review of this film, I ought to state, in brief, what I thought of the other three. The first is probably the best. Far from great, but I loved that it derived its tension from quiet moments more than action sequences. I enjoy impossible gadgets and complicated heists and sleight of hand, all that. The first movie delivered. I didn’t love it, but it was fun.

The second is probably the only one I outright dislike. I was on board with it for a while, but there was ultimately so much slamming and crashing and banging and so little delicacy or attention to pacing and buildup that it wore thin and became burdensome to watch.

The third was at least electric, structured, and fast-paced. But it still neglected the more technical stuff that made the first one so intriguing. It was also way, way too dark for the kind of movie it was trying to be.

Where does “Ghost Protocol” fall? Somewhere near the first one. I’m not prepared to say whether I think it’s better or worse, but it’s close. It restores the quiet tension of that particular film, crafting several of its biggest set pieces around daring bits of infiltration and espionage and slipping some explosions and fisticuffs into the breaks. Brad Bird is visually the ideal director to put the franchise back in its original form, as he neither shakes the camera around like an imbecile or abuses slow motion to the extent that you want to punch the television. At no point in “Ghost Protocol” did I stare at the screen and say, “Okay, what just happened?” That, at least, sets it apart from nearly all other films in its genre.

It also gets points—huge points—for its ingenuity in its action sequences, whether they’re oriented towards crashing and smashing or big, intense stunts. There are few action scenes in this movie that feel totally perfunctory; just about every one of them is offering something new. I watch a lot of action movies these days and get the feeling that fight scene direction usually goes like this: “Okay, in this shot, the robot punches the other robot in the face again, but this time, we’ll swing the camera this way, and the audience will be like, ‘Hey, that’s something I kind of haven’t seen before!’ Paycheck, please.”

With “Ghost Protocol,” I can’t recount much of the story—and we’ll get to that point in a bit—but I’m fairly certain I can list every action set piece in order. This movie has a number of escape scenes. The beauty of them is that they always keep you asking, “Ooh, how’s he going to get out of this one?” And there’s always this ingenious trick he tries out to divert attention or slow down his opponents. In other movies, the answer is always, “He will beat up some guys? Whatever.”

And the big action set pieces are endlessly inventive. I’m not even going to talk about the Dubai sequence; everybody already knows about it. And I got vertigo just watching it. You like car chases? So does Brad Bird, but he prefers they take place during a sandstorm. There’s a climactic event in an automated parking garage that smacks of what I used to do as a child coming up with stories—taking the most random location imaginable and picking it apart for cool ways to fight in it. “Ghost Protocol” finds those cool ways.

I’m always harping on this point—invent, invent, invent. There’s only so long I can watch two guys punch each other before I start shouting, “Okay, let’s at least try some variation on this, please!” It’s pleasing to me that “Ghost Protocol” does, indeed, invent.

And yet, it proves to me, quite conclusively, what I’ve always expected—that inventive action only goes so far if I don’t particularly care what’s going on, and with “Ghost Protocol”… Well, I didn’t, usually. A lot of it was cool to see, but there was almost always this emotional distance between me and the movie. I can admire how technically impressive it is to see Tom Cruise dangling off of a skyscraper, but emotional investment comes from how much I actually care about the character. With “Ghost Protocol,” I was leaning towards the edge of my seat, but I wasn’t on it, quite.

I wasn’t particularly expecting an interesting story. Spy movies can’t usually get there beyond all the technobabble and agency-related jargon they have to slog through. I can’t call “Ghost Protocol” any better or worse than the norm in this regard. But I was expecting the characters to be far less flat.

I attribute that expectation solely to my experience with Brad Bird’s work. “The Iron Giant,” which is possibly one of my favorite movies ever, is pretty much the most outstanding example of how to take a standard family film and load it with heart and gravitas. “Ratatouille” had characters with a lot of fun chemistry who worked together to create a unique and interesting subtext regarding the joys of creation. And “The Incredibles”… For crying out loud, that’s pretty much the exact same movie as this.

All of them had really strong and likable characters that drove their action forward. (Granted, only two of them could really be considered action movies, and one of those only loosely so.) “Ghost Protocol” left me cold.

Tom Cruise is the king of looking serious, daring, and without pretense in even the dumbest of action bits, but outside of that, his natural charisma can only take him so far in crafting a character. Paula Patton’s character is too much of a non-presence, so much so that I had frequently to remind myself of her motivations and role in the story. She’s all too often reduced to mere eye candy. Simon Pegg is quite funny, admittedly, and brings more laughs to the film than were contained in perhaps any other movie in the franchise. But his character is somewhat one-note. You laugh, but you also think, at the back of your mind, “This guy is kind of annoying.” Jeremy Renner has the biggest impact, but he’s also possibly the best actor, and his character has the most dramatic depth.

That’s the real problem, I think, that I didn’t perceive most of what happened between the battles and perils as being particularly interesting. I expected that Brad Bird would layer a more compelling narrative underneath all of the excitement, but frankly, it often feels like there’s very little at stake. In a movie about a possible nuclear war.

It wins you over eventually, but it takes too long. Early sequences are impressive, and you enjoy them, but you don’t really care. It doesn’t always build up perfectly either. It takes until the climax before you’re more or less fully on board, but there’s an entire two hours of movie before that. They’re diverting enough, but so what? They don’t stick with you. The movie doesn’t really have a personality of its own.

It is an entertaining film, more or less, and I admired its inventiveness. Visually, it’s what an action movie ought to be—largely CGI-free, clearly visible at all times, etc. It’s imaginative, fun, and, in a really strange way, almost childlike. But it’s got too little heart. And I truly hope that’s the last time I ever have to say that about a Brad Bird movie.

-Matt T.

J. Edgar (2011)

Starring- Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, Armie Hammer, Ed Westwick, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Lucas, Christopher Shyer, Damon Herriman, Gunner Wright, David A. Cooper

Director- Clint Eastwood

R- brief strong language

Trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD99zwj-ZUg

MODERN COMMENTARY, OCTOBER 2015:

Everything people say about this movie — as well as my increasingly lukewarm feelings about Clint Eastwood’s modern directorial output — makes me think I’d probably hate this if I saw it again. I haven’t seen it again. So…I think this review has to stand. Unfortunately. I didn’t know much about J. Edgar Hoover when I originally reviewed this. Nowadays, I know more than I care to. I don’t say this about many historical figures, but yeah, dude was a really bad person. That would probably influence my opinion on this movie as well (not that I remember it ever really condoning him, but still). Also, this review is really flowery. I guess 2011 was the year when I wanted to be taken seriously. Also, someone tell 2011 Me that he did not understand psychology or LGBT issues. Thank you.

In a lot of ways, “J. Edgar” is the perfect film for its times, which is not to say that it’s perfect, because it isn’t. But the parallels it draws to the world in which we live today are quite striking indeed. They say history moves in cycles. I suspect that Clint Eastwood would agree.

The film follows the life of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, documenting several of the largest cases he undertook as well as the relationships he had with those around him, primarily with his authoritarian mother (Judi Dench) and his deputy, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). There is also a secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), with whom his relationship is…well, complicated. Moreover, it is an examination of the man himself.

And really, could a film have chosen a more controversial figure? True, other public individuals have warranted more discussion, especially of late, but once the limelight fades, history tends to fall on one side or another with regards to how it views them. Hoover seems to have received no such accommodation. Even today, decades later, it seems one either considers him a great American hero or the setter of a seemingly unbreakable negative precedent whose effects are still felt today. At least no one can deny that he made his mark on history.

“J. Edgar” has been accused of being an attack campaign against the man. Then again, many of the best biopics receive this treatment. It doesn’t seem to matter how favorably or otherwise the subject actually comes off in the end. Those human moments, those moments where weaknesses set in… Those rankle the supporters, in exactly equal measure to the anger of the detractors at portrayals of the subject’s successes and positive qualities. Black and white worldviews do not easily tolerate complexity. And yet, no human being is entirely without evil or valor. It seems honesty requires that the people we either vaunt or despise be portrayed as not entirely deserving of either.

That is, to some extent, how the film portrays J. Edgar Hoover. He is not, as previously stated, a man who tolerates complexity. In an early scene, he tells Helen that he considers himself a quick and accurate judge of character. He believes it, too, and he allows that mindset to determine his actions.

In Hoover’s mind, ideas define people rather than actions, or, at the very least, ideas determine their actions. He is not prepared to accept that people have reasons for what they do, or that his greatest enemies perceive themselves as heroic in their minds. He has no patience for people who try to disagree with him and be peaceable and valorous about it. He may not even believe they exist.

This is what allows him, in the film, to take some of the liberties that he does in hunting down those he perceives as being a threat to national security. Much has been made, historically, of the actions he took to keep his country safe, of whether they were necessary or perhaps counterproductive. Much will continue to be made, I’m sure.

Hoover finds his plans unraveling when society becomes harder to scare—he might use the word “motivate.”

It’s an interesting and important discussion because of how it does have relevance today. Between the Patriot Act, the NDAA, and related actions, it’s clear that the film’s central question has become important again. At what point does the need for national security trump the need for personal freedom?

And the fear that Hoover seems to think ought to motivate people… Does it sound familiar? If anything, it’s beginning to hit a new stride. Perhaps the modern world has nothing quite like the Red Scare to drive it forward, but what it does have may be even more destructive and divisive. We’ve seen the formation of a culture that almost thrives on the demonization of “the other.” If it’s not this political party, it’s that one; if it’s not this religion, it’s that one; if it’s not this race/gender/sexual orientation, it’s that one. In every situation, someone other than yourself is to blame for all of society’s worst problems, those that will certainly have transformed the nation into a barren hell-scape within the decade.

Is it worth it?

The film drags its feet a bit about what actually motivates Hoover to behave in the way that he does. It’s possible that he’s truly just that passionate about justice. There is evidence for that. It’s equally possible that he may want to be a hero, to be in the public eye, to be a man, to make something of himself, to be better than the sum of his worst parts. I think it’s a bit of both. Some of it may come from his mother, who provides what is likely the film’s most interesting interpersonal relationship. It reminds me a bit of the maternal relationship in “The Descendants.” It’s possible that J. Edgar loves his mother. It’s certain that he needs her. But it becomes clear, under great duress, that he hates what she represents in his life—the forces that keep him in a constant state of laser-like focus and anxiety, the things both internal and external that prevent him from seeking after his own happiness.

Is “J. Edgar” an attack campaign? No, I don’t think so. I think there’s a substantial difference between a propaganda piece specifically designed to discredit someone and an artwork that strives to get to the bottom of things. I believe “J. Edgar” is the latter. If it wanted only to attack the man, there are many places it could’ve gone that it chose not to, a bevy of controversies in which Hoover could far more easily be implicated. It could’ve made him look like a monster. But it didn’t. It doesn’t make him look like a hero either, to be sure. It makes him tragic. He becomes a man that you understand. You don’t necessarily admire him, but you know why he is that way. You understand the unfortunate circumstances that drove him and ultimately see him for what he was—human.

Are all of the film’s conclusions accurate? Perhaps not. I’m in no position to say. I think that based upon the evidence, they are logical. Then again, many other conclusions would be equally so. But that’s what the film is—getting to the bottom of things, proposing a theory about a complex and possibly misunderstood man.

The place where it takes perhaps the most liberties would be with regards to Hoover’s sexuality. There is certainly evidence that Hoover was a closeted homosexual, though none of it is particularly conclusive. Any thoughts on that matter could be called strictly speculative.

Many critics have called the film ambiguous on this issue, but frankly, I’m not sure what film they saw. It is clear that Clint Eastwood has taken the side of the debate that says he was gay. I see few other ways to interpret certain of his actions in the film. It is subtle to begin with, sure, but by the end… Well, not so much.

It is in this regard that the film is not quite as airtight. His relationship with Clyde Tolson, whom the film insinuates was Hoover’s secret lover, is not particularly interesting. Neither is it terrible. It’s simply there. Good enough for any other film, perhaps, but not enough for one where it stands as a central moral dilemma with which the protagonist wrestles, one that perhaps drove his decisions in other, more important areas of his life. It is also handled in a somewhat ham-fisted fashion. In their interactions, both Hoover and Tolson are prone to emoting in a far more over-the-top manner, cutting loose with big emotional climaxes at the drop of a hat, saying lines that don’t sound particularly human, and ultimately teasing the audience’s suspension of disbelief a bit.

The film also stumbles somewhat in terms of its timeframe—in my opinion, anyway. What makes the best biopics so fascinating is that they are able to hone in on one particular aspect, either of the character or the events in his or her life, and explore those to maximum effect. “J. Edgar,” on the other hand, is very nearly the man’s entire life story. There’s simply too much going on; it transitions from one decade to the next far too quickly and can’t spend an adequate amount of time in any of them. It dwells the longest on the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, but even that marks a comparatively small part of what is a relatively long film.

Too, a lot has been said about the acting, the makeup, and the ways the two are related. I will say that I do not think either is as great an obstruction to enjoyment of the film as has been indicated by the critical establishment… But both are problematic nonetheless. DiCaprio and Hammer do their best with the material, but can do nothing about the fact that they are simply wrong for these parts. I believe Roger Ebert said as much in his review—people age differently today. J. Edgar Hoover looked older at twenty than Leonardo DiCaprio does in his forties. He doesn’t have the right sensibility about him. The makeup doesn’t help matters—neither actor is particularly convincing in the roles of the elderly versions of their characters. It could be worse, and I’ll briefly admit that the makeup job on the female characters was far more effective. But it’s another element poking at that wall between the film and the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

It’s also thematically unfocused, running back and forth between security dilemmas and issues of sexuality and treating neither with the necessary amount of delicacy. The former ultimately comes away with more discussion-worthy material. It’s a debate that needs to be had. It’s not had often enough at the level of the general public.

How much freedom and sense of security are we willing to sacrifice? How many people are we willing to demonize, ostracize, and restrict? How willing are we to put ourselves in the crosshairs like that? What are we willing to do to protect ourselves and our nation?

That the film frames this in terms of a fascinating individual is to its benefit. Hoover’s cinematic interpretation is equally compelling, agree or disagree as to its accuracy. If it is mere fiction, it still has something to offer.

It is, again, the perfect type of film for its times. I guess we’ll just have to hold out for the perfect film, period.

 

-Matt T.

The Descendants (2011)

Starring- George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Patricia Hastie, Beau Bridges, Matt Corboy, Robert Forster, Barbara L. Southern, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer

Director- Alexander Payne

R- language including some sexual references

Trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWHNXJ1K4yA

MODERN COMMENTARY, SEPTEMBER 2015:

I’ve only seen bits and pieces of this movie since I first reviewed it, so I’m not sure if my perspective has changed overmuch. The review itself reads fine; I’m not ashamed of it or anything.

“The Descendants” is a great movie with one very critical problem—it has no beginning. Or at least, no proper beginning. It’s rare that I come away from a movie thinking it could’ve stood to have been a bit longer, especially when it’s near two hours already, but frankly, “The Descendants” could make good use of an extra fifteen minutes or so.

Nevertheless, it is still quite well done, enough so that it is possibly the best of the major Academy Awards nominees.

The film follows Matt King (George Clooney), a mostly self-absorbed lawyer and self-described back-up parent to his two daughters, the increasingly troublesome Scottie (Amara Miller) and the already troublesome Alexandra (Shailene Woodley). All that changes when a boating accident leaves his wife (Patricia Hastie) in a coma from which she might not emerge.

Things worsen when a family secret emerges—Matt’s wife was having an affair. He is Bryan Speer (Matthew Lillard), a local realtor who stands to profit from land Matt is being forced to sell.

Determined to meet the man—and needing to inform family and friends of his wife’s condition—Matt, his daughters, and irritating tagalong Sid (Nick Krause) head off for a confrontation.

It’s this part of the film, the latter three-fourths, that is strikingly well done. What starts off as a journey of vengeance against a man perceived to have wronged them becomes a bizarre bonding experience between Matt and his detached daughters. At one point, Matt wonders at what it is that makes all the women in his life start to destroy themselves. I think he comes to realize that it might be him.

What’s fascinating to me is how little his overall character actually changes throughout the course of the film, in terms of his demeanor, personality, and thoughts, and how much that actually makes all the difference. It makes me think of all the other family dramas I’ve seen over the years, how neat and tidy their resolutions are, how quickly and arbitrarily their characters morph into perfect, sinless paragons of virtue, capable of dealing expertly with any situation.

By the end of “The Descendants,” I didn’t get the impression that Matt really understood his daughters any better, or at all. I didn’t get the impression that he was suddenly really good with kids. He wasn’t really any less awkward or any more talkative or even any warmer.

I think a great many films try to wrangle their protagonists into such stainless perfection that it becomes almost off-putting to the audience. “I can’t ever be that way,” they say, “so why even try?”

Matt never becomes perfect. But he does try. That makes all the difference. The film shows that half of love is effort and sincerity. Matt is trying to become involved in his daughter’s lives, and when his ulterior motives disappear, they stop fighting him. They meet halfway. It’s the same reason I liked “Warrior” so much: it emphasized effort over quick, easy, and relatively painless resolution. It takes work, and things might never be perfect, but they can be better. “The Descendants” is more complex than average, and that’s what works. It understands that human emotions are complicated and unruly beasts. Alexandra probably hates her mother exactly as much as she loves her, and her reaction to what has happened to her constitutes reasons #1—100 why Shailene Woodley is now officially a talent to watch.

Even the affair is handled with more grace than that to which I have become accustomed. You don’t like Bryan Speer, but he’s certainly not as horrid as you want him to be. The viewer sees him as a victimizer rather than a willing participant, exactly the way Matt and his family see him, at least until we understand that Mrs. Speer (Judy Greer) sees Matt’s wife the same way. Neither of them are bad people—circumstances drove them to a bad action. Matt realizes that on his end, he was those circumstances.

And here is where we get to that one thing that is the film’s most fundamental problem, its lack of a solid foundation in its first act.

You see, we never meet Matt’s wife while she’s awake, alert, and interacting with her family. You see why that’s a problem, right? The entire film is about what happens when the cornerstone of a family is abruptly removed from the equation. But because of where the film chooses to start, we never see how she operated in that role. How did she support the family? How did she interact with her daughters? What was her relationship with Matt, and what part of that left her empty enough to seek companionship in another man? We don’t know, because we never see any of this.

It’s not just her, either. Matt, too, is established poorly. He is frequently described as being the sort of man who is married to his work and has little time for or interest in his family. And yet, we see him working… I don’t know, twice? On neither occasion does it seem to be disrupting his family time in any way. In fact, watching the film, I almost got the impression that Matt lived a relatively easygoing life because of how little we actually see him working and how much free time he seems to have on his hands to do whatever he wants. You don’t get the impression that he’s got a lot to deal with, beyond the film’s weighty emotional content (which, I should specify, is a lot to deal with, but not the sort the foundation requires).

It leaves the movie a bit like a puzzle with a missing piece. You put it all together, and it’s beautiful. The Hawaiian scenery is perfectly employed, several of the actors are at their absolute best while others make grand first impressions, and the emotional subtext is both thematically interesting and complex enough to remain real. But there’s still that piece missing.

And you can stare at that puzzle forever. You can look at the box art. And doing these things, you can form some general idea of what that piece looked like, but until you actually recover it, you will never experience the full effect. There will always be that one little hole preventing it from reaching true perfection, preventing it from making total aesthetic sense.

That’s what it’s like to watch “The Descendants.” It’s a fantastic film in every sense that I understand the term. It’s probably one of the year’s best. But there remains ever a nagging sense of something being just barely amiss.

 

-Matt T.

In Time (2011)

Starring- Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Johnny Galecki, Matt Bomer, Alex Pettyfer, Vincent Kartheiser

Director- Andrew Niccol

PG-13- violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and strong language

Trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdadZ_KrZVw

“In Time” is the sort of movie you watch, basically enjoy, don’t necessarily love, stop watching, and say to yourself, “Well, time to let that devalue.”

And yeah, it really does. TV Tropes has a phrase for this: Fridge Logic. As in, the movie ends, you go to your refrigerator for a snack, and it just hits you out of nowhere. “Well, that didn’t make a lick of sense.”

It has a more pronounced presence in high concept sci-fi/action thrillers, which is pretty squarely where “In Time” sits on the action movie continuum.

The film establishes a world in which time is literally money. From the moment people are born, they are implanted with a biological clock that appears on their wrists and serves as currency. Aging stops at twenty-five, and the clock starts ticking. The wealthy are fully capable of living forever. The poor die by the hour.

Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one of the poor. He lives in the ghetto with his mother (Olivia Wilde) and works in the factory just to stay alive. Together, they barely make ends meet.

That all changes when Will bumps into Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), a billionaire who certainly doesn’t belong anywhere near his time zone. Hamilton seems to have a death wish, and after Will saves him from local gangsters, he gifts him a full century and promptly commits suicide.

Now a prime suspect in the billionaire’s death, Will wanders into the wealthier time zones, determined to upset the system. Along the way, he picks up a straggler, Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of a top businessman who’s had it with the meaninglessness of eternal life.

I do have to give this movie some credit. When I saw the trailer, I wrote it off as being something like “Surrogates”: ten minutes of an interesting premise followed by two hours of CAR CHASE EXPLOSION BOOM BOOM BOOM BANG GUNFIGHT BANG POW! “In Time”… Well, it’s only partially that. Either way, it’s clear the premise is more than just an excuse to get people into the seats to see a generic action thriller. The movie has actual ideas, and it tries to get around to exploring them.

How it explores them… Well, the bulk of the problem lies therein. “In Time” is a cut above other dumb blockbusters in that itdoes raise some interesting ideas and questions. And it’s not even that the movie chickens out and tries to play it up the middle. Trust me, its social justice message is anything but subtle and measured. It’s that I’m not convinced it even realizes it’s raising such interesting questions.

It hints at all sorts of thematic issues regarding the idea of immortality. No one really wants to die, but does anyone want to live forever? Most wouldn’t, if they thought about it. What does life become when it never ends? It loses its value and its worth. (Which makes it a bit strange to me that the characters in this movie are actually super-protective and overly cautious when it comes to their long lives. I would’ve liked more elaboration on that point.)

And what do people who can live forever do with all that time? One character eventually makes the point: why get a job now? Why do today when you can put off for a century? If you have a thousand years of time left in your life, and you can use that time as currency, what in the world do you need income for?

That even raises a question on the social justice front. This movie has an upper class that is genuinely not productive in any way. It has no reason to be. So, here’s a world where everything is built on the backs of a working class that is being forced to die untimely deaths so that an upper class that makes no contribution whatsoever to society can live forever for no reason. Andhow has there not been total revolution in this world yet?

The movie is genuinely pretty interested in this social justice angle. Unfortunately, it’s pretty one-sided in its portrayal. On top of that, it’s not interested in raising questions there, only in conveying a black-and-white message. And here’s the thing about message movies… Aside from being not to my taste, they require awfully literal portrayals. There’s no room for metaphors. So, making a message movie that’s also a metaphor… Yeah, that doesn’t work out. The metaphor needs to be perfect. Unfortunately, in our world, you don’t immediately die the moment you run out of money. Getting stuck in traffic is not worrisome. Also, we have charities and welfare systems, whereas putting money into the hands of the poor in the world of “In Time” is apparently disastrous for the upper classes. Speaking of which: in our world, the upper class frequently does earn its money. We can make argument about whether they deserve the exact proportion they receive, and about whether or not they earn it any more than the working class. But in “In Time,” they don’t earn it at all.

Either way, the comparison has holes, so the movie’s insistence that this is all totally the exact same thing as real-life class struggles falls flat. Even that might be forgivable if the movie proposed a solution other than bank robbery, but it doesn’t, so… Yeah.

Beyond that, the movie isn’t bad, per se. It’s basically entertaining, until you start thinking about it. It is riddled with plot holes, most of which center around the protagonist’s inexplicable decision making in the story’s second half. Justin Timberlake, by the way, gave his most passably decent performance at the hands of David Fincher, who does one hundred takes of every scene and grabs bits and pieces of all of them in the editing room. Here, he pretty conclusively proves who was responsible for what happened in “The Social Network.” Dull intensity is his only real setting. Amanda Seyfried is a bit better, but she has still failed throughout the entirety of her career to persuade me that she has real charisma or genuine acting chops.

Cillian Murphy, predictably, stands out, but the hackneyed dialogue does him no favors.

I do appreciate that the movie got me asking questions at all, but I’m disappointed that it didn’t fuel any further thought on the matter. It’s the sort of movie that doesn’t leave you thinking, “Ugh, this is terrible,” so much as, “Ugh, this should be better.” On that level, it’s a cut above other dumb blockbusters. But let there be no mistake—it’s still a dumb blockbuster.

-Matt T.