Posted: October 25, 2012 in Film reviews
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Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt.

Time travel films are a bit like horror films and comedies, it’s really easy to make a terrible one, a lot harder to make a good one, and so whilst I was eager to see Looper, I also went with some trepidation.

Question is; do I now want to travel back in time to kill all those involved before they can make the film, or do I just want to nip back so I can see it again?

In 2074 time travel was invented, and though immediately banned, this didn’t stop criminals utilising the technology as a way of safely eliminating their enemies without leaving a body. Killing someone in 2074 is nigh on impossible, so instead they send them back 30 years, where an assassin known as a Looper kills them off and disposes of the body, leaving no trace. Of course there is still a loose end, the Looper themselves, and so, in the future, the older Looper is kidnapped and then sent back to where their younger self finishes them off, thus closing the loop. The younger Looper gets a big pay off and is released from their contract, to live out the last thirty years of their lives in luxury…until the day they’re sent back again to die at their own hands.

Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a Looper living in 2044. An ice cold killer, being a Looper has given him a life he could only dream of before; booze, drugs, beautiful women, fast cars and cool clothes, and all he has to do is shoot a succession of victims sent back from the future, always aware that his next victim might be himself. As Joe puts it in his narration, the job doesn’t attract the most forward thinking of men.

Everything’s going swimmingly until his older self (Willis) appears in front of him one day, and before young Joe can kill old Joe, his older self gets the drop on him and makes his escape, leaving young Joe in a whole heap of trouble, because the boss of the Loopers in 2044 (played by Jeff Daniels) can’t have a man from the future running around loose, so he sends his goons, the ‘Gat Men’ after both Joes.

Young Joe has to fight off the Gat Men whilst he hunts his older self. Joe from the future however has an altogether different agenda, one that relates to the future underworld boss of 2074, the diabolical Rainmaker. Caught in the middle of all this is a woman (Blunt) and her young son…

It may be apocryphal, but I read something attributed to the director Len Wiseman, who explained that he signed on to do the Total Recall remake because Hollywood wouldn’t options an original science fiction film he’d suggested. If Looper proves anything, it’s that producers and studios will actually take a chance of something that isn’t a remake/reboot or copycat of another film. One can only imagine Wiseman’s idea was either too expensive or just plain rubbish!

This isn’t to say Looper is wholly original, but as is oft said; there are no truly original ideas left in the world, and it’s easy to see Looper’s ancestry encoded into its DNA. What marks it out from the Total Recalls of this world is that it chooses to be subtle about this, and chooses to try and do something different with its less than original elements, unlike Total Recall which was just trying to be the original Arnie film merged with Blade Runner, yet without having much thought for what it was that made those films so great.

The other strength of Looper is the range of films it cherry picks from; taking tropes and ideas not only from science fiction but also thrillers, westerns, horror films…even a certain episode of the Twilight Zone (no, not the one with William Shatner and the gremlin on the wing of a plane!)

What results is a film that feels original, feels like a breath of fresh air in a world of remakes. Looper isn’t perfect, and for a film that relies so heavily on the notion of a closed loop, there are plot holes, but it tries, and most succeeds, to be that rarest of things, an intelligent yet exciting science fiction film, rattling along at a great pace, yet still slowing down enough at times, and having the confidence in its story, to give us lots of quiet moments, lots of characterisation.

It’s a surprising film as well, one that never quite seems to go in the direction you expect it too, and whilst this kind of deviation from the narrative can fall down sometimes, it never does with Looper, it just makes it a whole more interesting.

I’m not going to go into too much detail, because I think it’s best to see Looper without knowing the kinds of turns the story takes, but all I’ll say is this, it’s a very different film from the one the trailer makes it out to be, or even the descriptions I gave above, a film that respects its audience, and its audience’s ability to keep up, without ever resorting to longwinded explanations of what’s going on, and it delves into some interesting territory, the nature of determinism, about how the choices we make can affect our whole future.

Proving yet again that he can do effortlessly cool… well, effortlessly; Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb, imbuing a cold hearted killer with humanity and pathos that make us like him, make us root for him, although you may find the prosthetics used to make him look like a young Bruce Willis odd at first, personally it didn’t bother me.

English rose Emily Blunt slips under the skin of the all American farm girl almost as effortlessly, and the young boy playing her son does a fantastic job. There are a couple of moments where he doesn’t quite convince, but on the whole it’s a great performance from one so young.

The film has flaws, though oddly they’re not really tied into the time travel elements, which work quite well and consistently. The fate of one escaped Looper victim is wonderfully grisly, but you do wonder why they went to so much trouble when they could just kill his younger self, and given we’re told murder is so tricky in 2074, the fact that the story hinges on a murder then feels odd. And while Bruce Willis does the best he can, his future Joe never quite feels as real or as well rounded as Gordon-Levitt’s younger version, but in part this is down to him having less screen time, and the nature of his single minded quest.

As time travel films go Looper isn’t quite a classic. This is no Twelve Monkeys or Terminator, but that’s no great slight, because Looper is still head and shoulders above 95% of what pass for time travel films, hell science fiction films in general,these days and a film I highly recommend, and so, no, I won’t be showing up at anyone’s door with an Uzi 9mm anytime soon…

  1. I love Bruce Willis. I regard him as one of the all-time great SF actors. Man’s an icon.

  2. starkers70 says:

    I wouldn’t argue with that 🙂

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