Film Review: Looper
Studio: FilmDistrict / Endgame Entertainment / DMG Entertainment
Director: Rian Johnson
Producer: Ram Bergman / James D. Stern
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt / Bruce Willis / Emily Blunt / Jeff Daniels
When was the last time audiences had a time travel story made simple but solid? Looper, against the odds manages to do just this. I was just about ready to wind down from movies until The Hobbit lands in theatres this fall but out of nowhere this movie came around and plunked me right back in my seat. I have a bit of a love-hate affair with time travel stories; For me they rarely work and sometimes they just feel convoluted. So when I sat down to finally watch this I was happy to see that my faith had been rewarded! Immensely thought provoking and ambitious, I think that director Rian Johnson has made what is arguably the best sci-fi thriller since Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
The story is set in 2044, in a bleak future where the western world has suffered a complete economic collapse resulting in severe social decline, booming organized crime, and the general breakdown of law and order. Technology and society is still advancing though, it is advancing in China and South-East Asia which have benefited hugely from the collapse of the western economy and has essentially become the ‘Eden of Earth’. The narration during the opening scene explains most of which audiences will need to know: Time travel is invented in 2074 and is instantly outlawed worldwide. This does not stop organized crime syndicates from utilizing the technology and since forensic science has also progressed covering up murders in the future is impossible so these groups opt to send targets back in time and have assassins called “Loopers” dispose of the bodies cleanly. It is here that we are introduced to Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a looper working for a mafia boss in 2044’s Kansas City. The audience quickly gets to grips with what being a looper entails: A looper must never allow his target to escape as doing so might cause irreparable damage to the time line and failure to kill a target is a certain death sentence even if the mistake is rectified.
Joe lives the life of a mafia stooge, reaping the rewards of his employer and seemingly having everything he could want. However, his entire world is turned on its’ head when a target sent back in time to be killed by him turns out to be his future self (Bruce Willis). Rooted to the spot Joe hesitates allowing his future self to take advantage and knock him out cold before he can react. What follows is a thrilling chase as Joe desperately tries to track down his future self, find out why he ended up on the wrong side of the mob, and to find any exit from this dilemma that he can. All the while the future Joe has a mission of his own… was he really sent back against his will…?
The time travel mechanic s Looper works with are bare-bones basic but effective and enthralling to follow. The writing is also extremely sharp for a movie dabbling into a topic so many other movies get catastrophically wrong – a certain scene involving the first face-to-face conversation the two Joes’ have is incredible to watch, just how do you go about literally talking to yourself!? What makes the dialogue click is that your allegiance is truly up for grabs, do you side with Joe from the present or Joe from the future? Initially you might be forgiven for siding with present-Joe but as you learn more about his future self and the circumstances surrounding his jump back to the past you might find your conscience being sorely tried – It is damn good and thought provoking writing. Suffice to say the two leads play off of each other perfectly (since they are essentially playing the same character they kind of have to!) but unfortunately they are two gems in a chest of frankly average performances and forgettable characters. I cannot completely fault the movie for not fleshing out it’s supporting cast so much in this instance because there is a LOT of story revolving around the two leads and the story is so riveting that side-tracking from it will lose audiences quickly.
This brings me to the second problem I had with the movie, the middle act feels rather dull in comparison to the gripping first act and edge-of-your-seat final act. The bulk of the middle act consists of the mafia boss “Abe” (Jeff Daniels) directing efforts to track down both versions of Joe, he radiates an air of authority and threat which is gripping in itself but he alone cannot bring life to a frankly lifeless 30 minutes in the centre of the story. The other supporting roles filled in by the rough-and-tumble farm-girl Sarah (Emily Blunt) and the minor personalities that make up Abe’s henchmen are ultimately forgettable, they should be given more to do but they simply cannot in a movie of this nature where so much is already revolving around the leads.
When the focus returns to the exploits of future-Joe the movie really kicks into overdrive with some downright shocking moments and solid action scenes. Remember all the times when audiences and comedy movies alike ask why in time travel situations the protagonist/antagonist doesn’t go back in time to when a future problem was in its infancy and end it there? Well… you’ll find that future-Joe got the memo. I can distinctly remember a howl of horror in the audience I was with when the time traveller did what he did but when the full picture of his motivation became clear I found myself thinking “Wow… I know what Willis just did was FUBAR* but he might have made the right call”.
Future-Joe also brings with him fighting techniques and firearms training from his time and is able to rack up an unbelievable body count when he goes after the present-day mafia… that and it’s awesome to see Bruce Willis kicking some ass again!
*F’d Up Beyond All Recognition
There are so many brilliant moments between the two versions of Joe Simmons that is is hard for me to pick out my favorite, the writing really is THAT engaging. The story sails by soundly despite the dip in pace during the middle and the plot reaches an interesting conclusion which looking back at it now makes sense the way it ultimately pans out. Will we be seeing a sequel to this story? I highly doubt it, again drawing a comparison to Inception I feel this is one of those great movies that is better off being a one-off deal – watch it, take it in, and respect it for being a case study of how to do a time travel action thriller exceptionally well. The setting is intriguing and is potentially a shadow of what is to come and the suspension of iron-cast allegiance in this story makes it work above all the competition.
Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, hat’s off to you both.
Final Score: 9/10
+Very very though provoking +Action is brutal +Time travel story that is easy to follow. +Bruce Willis/Gordon-Levitt interaction is fascinating.
+Your alliegence to either “present” or “future” Joe is up for grabs. +Provocative and speculative look at the future.
+Extremely controversial but not malicious moments.
-Unfortunate lack of pace in the middle -Ending will be a bit of a let down for some -Forgettable supporting cast.
…I have to share it.