Hello! I actually previously published a review of this movie, but I took it down because it did not meet my revised standards. I will be re-addressing characters, aesthetic, and pacing in one of my favorite movies. I will warn you, this movie is objectively terrible. No one’s getting any Oscar nominations here, but they tried. An intriguing premise is ruined by bad acting and asinine pacing.
The intriguing premise is that time is literally money. At age 25, everyone’s biological clock starts counting down. They have one year to live unless they can get more time, and they must spend minutes and hours of their life on basic necessities. The movie is very much a Communist manifesto, but there’s an entire series worth of prequel world-building that viewers miss. How did these genetic clocks come to be? How did America as we know it disintegrate? Who exists outside of the film’s scope, and do they also have genetic clocks? Not one question on the origin of this “Darwinian capitalism” is answered*. Instead, we follow poor hustler Will Salas, as he kidnaps the daughter of the mayor/governor/highest political leader on screen, and takes her on a Robin Hood quest to avenge his mother’s death.
*There are some bonus feature “interviews” that give more context, but making viewers go outside of the main story seems too demanding.
Justin Timberlake has never missed a meal, so I can’t buy him as Will Salas, the male version of Katniss minus the archery and younger sibling. From the jump, Salas is your typical “scrappy kid from a tough neighborhood who protects their family”. His quest to avenge his mother by bringing down the system doesn’t even start until almost an hour in,
Sylvia Weiss is a pawn and not even Amanda Seyfried can save this character. I’ve seen Seyfried in genuinely engaging roles like Mamma Mia and The Dropout (for which she deserves an Emmy), but she has nothing to work with here. Sylvia doesn’t appear on screen until 30 minutes in, and a majority of her interaction with Will Salas is as his hostage. That’s a great start to a stable relationship. I can tell the writers wanted a Bonnie and Clyde-style pair, but even the “spoiled princess rebels against her tyrannical father” angle falls flat at times.
I would love to give the film credit for two interesting and intriguing characters. The first is Raymond Leon. Raymond is a Timekeeper hunting Will and Sylvia and trying to halt their Robin Hood escapades. Observant viewers can tell that Raymond has some internal conflict about his authoritarian role and that he had a hard climb up the ladder. Cillian Murphy portrays him sympathetically and with plenty of nuance. Without too many spoilers, Raymond is a tragic cautionary tale of someone who attempted to succeed within “the system”, but became a victim of it instead. I went through a pretty serious obsession with this particular character, and I still think the movie should’ve been centered on him. His arc has the most potential for expansion and tension, but that’s what fan fiction is for. 🙂
The other fascinating character is Henry Hamilton, played by Matt Bomer. In contrast to Leon’s ongoing struggle to succeed, Hamilton has made it to the top by every definition, and found that it means nothing. Although he was robbed of adequate screen time, his small but pivotal role in the story shares another important perspective.
Honorable mention goes to Philippe Weiss, played by Vincent Kartheiser. Weiss is the aforementioned tyrannical father, and the actor actually bears some resemblance to Elon Musk. Make of that what you will, but I think it adds an air of foreboding to an otherwise comically ineffective leader.
The aesthetic of this film is very urban and gritty. The two musical albums that remind me of this film are Trespassing by Adam Lambert and Badlands by Halsey. There are lots of decrepit urban streets and black trench coats throughout the movie, and a general sense of despair. The urban aesthetic of the Divergent movies definitely harkens back to this film.
While there’s some brief excitement ten minutes into the movie, the real action doesn’t start until 41 minutes in. I would say the movie is split into halves. The first half is primarily expository and philosophical, and the second half is more of the “action movie” viewers might expect from trailers. Like Passengers, the movie vacillates between philosophical satire and mindless action, so viewers expecting one or the other might be disappointed and bored halfway through.
Additionally, there are some issues with how the themes come across. The first lines of the movie are voiceover exposition of this bizarre dystopia, and the core themes and concepts of the movie are verbalized in dialogue enough to hammer us over the head. My rule for movies is that if something has to be explained in voiceover or dialogue, it’s not directed well. The first rule of creative writing is “show, don’t tell”, and this movie pretty much obliterates that rule.
This is a fascinating look at the chasm between classes, the tension between authority figures and their subjects, and what it takes to survive in a corrupt system. It’s also formulaic, with shitty acting and a pathetic script. I give it 8/10 (although it really deserves 7), for a fantastic premise, my biased emotional attachment, and a few standout characters. Viewers should be prepared to mentally fill in plot holes on their own, but it’s worth the effort.