Looper is the latest by writer and director Rian Johnson. Although he has only made two feature films, excluding Looper, both should be on your watch list: Brick and The Brothers Bloom. So, in my book he is two for two. Can Looper make it three for three? There are a few interesting things about the concept of this film before we even really get going. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe and Bruce Willis plays Old Joe. Yep, in case you missed the trailers or build up: Warning this film contains time travel! Not only that, it is also set in the future (2044+) where a small percentage of the population have “TK” (telekinesis or psychokinesis) abilities. As Johnson moves through the genres, noir, caper, this fits firmly in the sci-fi action genre. Although the world is the typical dystopian vision of the future in classic modern sci-fi style, thankfully it’s not a Blade Runner copycat.
As explained at the start of the film; a Looper is someone who kills people sent back from the future by the mob. It being almost impossible to kill anyone there because of some “tagging” system. When a looper’s contract is terminated, they send the looper back from the future for their younger self to… terminate. Termed “closing the loop”. With me? Really though, that’s not important. If you want to watch a film considering what would happen with real time travel, watch Primer. If I were to get slightly sciencey though, I’d say the film explores multiverse theory much more than time travel.
As you may have guessed, or seen in the trailer. Old Joe gets sent back for Joe to kill. Old Joe isn’t so keen on this idea and manages to make his escape from Joe. This means that the boss of the loopers, Abe, played by Jeff Daniels, who is from the future and also runs his own gang on the side, are after both Old Joe and Joe.
Loopers are not the most forward thinking of people and Joe concludes by killing Old Joe, he can put everything right and go back to his care free, drug addicted, party lifestyle. Old Joe considers Joe a stupid kid who should be helping him. In youth you lack wisdom and in wisdom you lack youth as it were. Essentially, it’s the inner struggle turned manifest, albeit young vs. old. The one to blame in all this, in Old Joe’s mind, is the new and mysterious mob boss, dubbed the “Rainmaker”. His plan then? To kill this person as a child. Wait, it gets worse. He only knows it’s one of three possible children. As this is more action than anything, the child killing is handled with a moments pause but also kept out of view, quite literally. This affords Joe an opportunity to lay in wait for Old Joe at the farm of Sara (Emily Blunt), the mother of one of the children.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears some prosthetics to look like Willis but it’s his mannerisms and comportment that really stand out. Some have found the prosthetics a distraction, personally it didn’t bother me overly. All the actors do a fine job. On the lesser end of the scale though, I would have to pick out Jeff Daniels, not so much for his acting. I just didn’t buy into him being menacing. Even when he is smashing someone’s hand with a hammer. I would have much rather of seen Bryan Cranston in this role instead of being wasted in Total Recall. The real stand out to me was the young boy Cid, played by Pierce Gagnon, he was perfect. Never work with children or animals they say. Most of the time, especially with young children you can see they are acting. It’s just in their eyes if nothing else. Not once did I get that feeling and considering some of his lines, that is quite an achievement.
Johnson is, as you would imagine having come from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, well versed in film. In his previous films there are little recognition of genre tropes. That continues with Looper, although not as subtle as before. Some may, in my opinion wrongly, consider these “rip offs” of other films. Most notably Inception and was probably a poor choice being more in modern memory.
The final verdict then? I’d have to say this is Rian Johnson’s most commercial (and believe it or not, least intelligent) film to-date. The budget wasn’t huge and I think, Johnson given a freer hand and some more money, would have made a more complete film. It just feels as if there are two films vying for attention. An all out action film and a more considered sci-fi film. I also feel there may be 20 minutes or so missing. Either cut or missing due to budget constraints It’s only that I hold Johnson in such high regard that I’m being this critical. The time travel is for pub talk, don’t look too closely and just enjoy the ride. Three for three then but I expect it to be considered one of his weaker films when all told.
4/5 (Talkin’ ’bout My Generation)