Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Passing by and Time

James Nesbitt is a fine actor who doesn't always get parts that give him enough to get his teeth into.  Furthermore, he's an actor who can show vulnerability without it seeming in the least bit hammy.  We caught up with a TV movie the other night called Passer By (a somewhat unusual 'spelling' of this common phrase - usually it's hyphenated if it's not treated as a single word).  Nesbitt plays a man who seems to have it altogether, but when one night coming home on a suburban train he's forced to make a decision as to whether to help a girl who's likely to be sexually assaulted if he leaves the train, he still decides to get off at his normal stop, suggesting she pull the emergency cord if there's further trouble.  Once off the train, he comes to the place where he can make an emergency call himself, but still fails to speak into it.  The consequences for the next year of his life, and for his family, are traumatic, as he's more and more pushed into having to face his cowardice and his unwillingness to get involved.

It's a play that hits home to all of us: how far are we willing to go to help a stranger in distress, someone who means nothing to us in terms of relationship, and whose only connection with us is their common humanity?  Nesbitt's character is given grace in more ways than one, as it turns out: from his wife (who's a good deal wiser than him, but who hasn't personally had to face the crisis), from his 14-year-old son, who's having trouble himself with bullies at school, and from the police.  The young woman who's attacked, of course, has to live with the ongoing trauma, and decides to repress it to a great extent, and comes to despise Nisbett's character.  The story could have ended far more tragically than it does; however without any great tweaking of the characters, it manages to offer a satisfactory and hopeful ending,   Nesbitt's wife in the film is played by Siobhan Finneran, who's perhaps now more famous as the sharp-tongued personal maid, Sarah O'Brien, in Downton Abbey.  Here she shows a much softer side, though it's combined with considerable strength.  Nesbitt's troubled son is superbly played by Ben Smith, who was 15 at the time, and already had considerable experience in television (he'd first appeared when he was four.)  His part certainly needed an experienced actor, since it combines violence and vulnerability in fairly equal measure.

On a different note, we watched In Time, last night.   This is set in some future time, though it doesn't appear to be too far away.  At this point everyone is genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and then given only one more year to live.  By swapping and buying 'time' they can achieve longer life spans (the first female 25-year-old we meet is actually 50), and of course, those with enough capital in 'time' are effectively aeons old.  There's a difficulty with having all that time available: this form of immortality can become increasingly tedious, but it's also dangerous, as those with greater amounts of time are at greater risk from those who want to steal their 'time' from them.  Time can be transferred from one person to another, like a kind of debit/credit system, or can be bought from places that charge increasingly large amounts of interest.  It doesn't pay to think too much about how this system works; during the course of the film it makes sense enough for the viewer to go along with it.

The film stars Justin Timberlake (as a young man from the wrong side of the tracks - the 'ghetto') and Amanda Seyfried as the daughter of one of the most wealthy men in the country (she lives in 'New Greenwich').  Through various circumstances they meet, and wind up on the run - from the Timekeepers.  These are a kind of police unit that aims to keep some sort of balance in the society, ensuring the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor (the latter often only having the means to accumulate one extra day, or less, at a time). 

The story behind the film has been done innumerable times before, but the twist in having 'time' as something that can be bought and sold adds an interesting and novel approach.  The cast of mostly mid-twenties actors is excellent, though I'm not sure that Justin Timberlake is quite your action hero.  He pulls it off, and adds some warmth and humanity to a character who could have been nothing but macho. Seyfried is a nice match for him, and the two become a kind of Robin Hood duo in due course.  At the end of the movie we see them continuing on their goal of robbing the rich to give to the poor; given the world they live in, it may be the only way the film can end, but it seemed just a little less than satisfactory.

The world they inhabit also seems a little constricted: there are lots of empty streets, and in the ghetto everything visible has been reduced to blandness: there are no shops, apart from pawn shops, so it's hard to work out how anyone manages to eat or clothe themselves. There's no entertainment, apart from one or two streetwalkers.  Even the Mission gives away only 'time' - no food or clothing or shelter.  When people do appear in the streets, it's as if they have nothing else to do all day.  Even in New Greenwich there's a shortage of bodies.  Perhaps this is intentional, part of the kind of world that we're experiencing.  It certainly feels a little odd.

The film is sharply directed (and written) by New Zealander Andrew Niccol, who leans towards stories in which the world isn't the way we normally experience it (The Truman Show, Gattaca).  A small-scale action movie, perhaps, but worth watching.
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