September 25, 2012 1 Comment
In the year 2072, time-travel is being used by a criminal organization spearheaded by The Rainmaker to send targets 30 years into the past so that they can be disposed of by specially trained ‘loopers’. Noting an increase in the number of ex-loopers being sent back to be killed by their younger selves — their loops closed, Joseph “Joe” Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) soon finds himself pointing a blunderbus at his 55-year-old self (Bruce Willis). Knocked unconscious during a moment’s hesitation, Joe is forced to flee from his employers while he attempts to finish the job. Discerning the older Joe’s intent, he travels to an old farm house owned by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) in an attempt to intercept his escaped prey.
While certainly complex, the plot is deceptively complicated. With a quick narration and a few visual demonstrations, writer-director Rian Johnson deftly lays out his premise in a manner that invites but does not necessitate repeated viewings, building a world that transverses both time and space. A future dystopia run through with novel narcotics, hoverbikes and underground organisations (run in the present by a bearded Jeff Daniels), the streets are not without familiar tropes, but each is refitted to serve the setting without ever drawing attention away from the film’s trump card: it’s lead character.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt excels as Joe, a contract killer who is attempting to teach himself French between jobs, delivering what might just be the performance of his career – no small praise considering the strength of his turns in the likes of 50/50 and Mysterious Skin. Armed with a few prosthetic enhancements and an astonishing eye for detail, the actor treads a fine line between imitation and interpretation as what is essentially a young Bruce Willis. As the thirty years separating young Joe from old play out, envisioned as a montage of the places the character will travel before his loop is closed, the similarities are made all the more uncanny.
If anything, however, it is the differences that are of most interest. At its heart, Looper is a “what if…” scenario that posits a meeting between two versions of the same person: what if you had a chance to communicate with your younger self? The conflict between perceptions, priorities and personalities is what could have given Looper its edge over other sci-fi movies that get so caught up in special effects and fanciful futures that they forget to ask any questions at all. While a diner-set confrontation touches on the topic, however, resulting in perhaps the film’s best scene, the characters get too few opportunities to explore the situation to any satisfying degree. In fact, Willis is slightly short-changed as the older Joe, reduced as he is to something of an unstoppable killing machine.
Johnson has nevertheless put together an engaging thriller, and one that blasts along at a truly impressive pace. Unconcerned with kick-starting a franchise or marketing merchandise, Looper never pauses to indulge some stylistic whim or need for comic relief. The film’s stakes are expertly established through an early subplot which sees a similar situation befall another looper, played by Ruby Sparks‘ Paul Dano. As his future self attempts to escape the city, present-day Seth is captured by Noah Segan’s eager-to-please henchman and tortured, each new mutilation soon manifesting on his fleeing target. When the film does eventually slow down, it is instead to focus on character, as older Joe is faced with some dark choices and younger Joe is forced into a friendship with Blunt’s protective mother.
Although on paper Looper‘s premise might throw up the occasional paradox, it is so well executed that you never once stop to question the integrity of the film’s fictional physics. Admirably eschewing the usual bombast for a slightly darker, more mature take on time-travel, Johnson’s film is certainly an intelligent, intricately designed and intimately characterised science fiction movie. I just wish it hadn’t been such a closed loop, and had taken the odd detour to further explore its more interesting implications.