Time To Shine
By Carl Kozlowski
Sometimes people you’d least expect to be movie stars surprise you.
In the case of Elizabeth Olsen, for instance, it would be easy to scoff at Olsen as the coattail-riding little sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of Full House fame.
Justin Timberlake is another example of this. Rather than a leading man, people still probably associate Timberlake with the cheesy boy-band N’Sync.
But both Olsen and Timberlake have the skills for stardom, evidenced by their turns in the new films Martha Marcy May Marlene and In Time, respectively.
Martha was a Sundance sensation this year, and it’s easy to see why America’s most pretentious film festival would warm to this tale of ambiguous terror and paranoia. The film follows the story of a woman in her 20s named Martha who is adrift. In the opening moments, the film shows Martha escaping a cult in the backwoods of upstate New York.
That Manson Family-like community is headed by a creepily charismatic leader named Patrick (John Hawkes), who projects a fatherly vibe to wayward young men and women. But he quickly disorients members of his commune by renaming them. Thus, Martha became known as Marcy May before being drugged, raped and manipulated into becoming part of an ever-growing harem for Patrick and the other young men.
“Marlene,” as it turns out, is the name that all women at the commune must use when they answer phone calls from outsiders.
Martha races to get away to her estranged sister and brother-in-law’s lake house three hours away, but they quickly notice her abnormal behavior. Martha leaps naked into their highly public lake, nonchalantly walks in on them while having sex and spends hours at a time nervously staring into space without explaining that she’s living in abject fear of being found by the cult members, whom she knows are capable of unspeakable violence.
Writer-director Sean Durkin expertly weaves Martha’s two worlds together, seamlessly blending her present reality and past memories. This not only creates an almost unbearable tension, as viewers are drawn into her paranoia, but spotlights the amazing acting range of Olsen in a performance that has many considering her likely to be nominated for an Oscar.
Martha is not a fun film to watch, but for those seeking scares delivered in intelligent fashion, it definitely delivers—at least until the film’s surprising and maddening final moment.
Meanwhile, In Time features Timberlake as Will Salas, who lives in a near-future Los Angeles in which immortality has become attainable, but with a twist: Since the planet couldn’t sustain everyone living forever while new babies keep arriving, every person has a clock embedded in them that allows just 25 years of life.
The bigger problem is that all economic transactions have shifted away from currency to time-based transactions. For instance, a pay-phone call will cost a minute of your life rather than 50 cents and a vintage luxury car will cost 59 years. But how does one accrue 59 years when they’re only supposed to have 25?
The film reveals that the upper classes of this future society are gifted with extra time and might have even well over 1,000 years available to them. But if someone winds up with seemingly too much time, or is caught either stealing it from others or giving it away, they can be marked for death by governmental enforcers known as Timekeepers.
As the film opens, Salas’ mother runs out of time just as she falls into his arms for a long-sought reunion. So when Salas is gifted with 106 years from a man who decides to “time out” and die, he uses his new energy to cross from the Los Angeles ghetto into a Century City-style area known as New Greenwich and take the entire power structure down, kidnapping the daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of a time-wealthy man as leverage.
Timberlake has the charisma and acting chops to be a bona fide movie star. In his first action role, he dresses well and kicks ass with aplomb, but the story by writer-director Andrew Niccol (who did both duties on the far-superior film Gattaca and wrote The Truman Show) devolves into too many scenes of Timberlake running from the Timekeepers. Midway through the movie you’ll be wondering how you could have made better use of your time.