Looper (2012)
By: Stuart Giesel on September 30, 2012  | 
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring:: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels
Screnplay: Rian Johnson
Country: USA
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There are some movies where even as you're watching them you know you want to see them again immediately after they're finished: Pulp Fiction, District 9, Children of Men and The Raid come to mind. Add Looper to that list. Writer/director Rian Johnson has crafted a wonderfully mind-bendy action thriller with enough time travel trickiness to have you unravelling it in your head hours after, and pounding your head against the table just as you think you've worked it all out. Thankfully you can also simply sit back and marvel at some superbly crafted action scenes that practically bleed with tension.

It's the sort of film where you're best advised going in with little to no knowledge of anything but the bare essentials of the plot. So, in the interest of a spoiler-free commentary, let's just say I give away less than what was in the trailer. In the year 2044, time travel has yet to be invented, but it will be in thirty years. Crime bosses send back people they want eliminated to 2044 so that a specialist assassin known as a 'Looper' can kill them off (with wonderfully messy blunderbuss weapons) and dispose of their bodies, essentially wiping all traces of them off the Earth (in 2074, that is, because forensic technology in that year makes killing people pretty tricky). Loopers take their job for the money and the prestige, knowing that they will one day get a golden handshake and retire, able to live the next thirty years of their lives in comfort, before being sent back to 2044 to be eliminated themselves (this is called "Closing the Loop") because the crime bosses want to get rid of any loose ends. Got that? Well, beyond the central concept, all you need to know is that a Looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) one day comes across an older version of himself from the future (Bruce Willis) but doesn't kill him, resulting in the older Joe running riot with his own agenda in 2044 whilst younger Joe tries to track him down to finish the job before his handler Abe (Jeff Daniels) and the other Loopers do the job for him. Thrown in the mix is a farmer, Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son. And there's lots more, but you're better off letting the film reveal the surprises to you rather than a piss-poor plot recap.

So go see this. Right now. It's fantastic. What more needs to be said? Everything clicks into place. The actors are uniformly terrific. Gordon-Levitt (who was in Johnson's first film, Brick), has to work with some weird makeup done to "Willis" him (particularly the nose) and does a fine job of mimicking Bruce Willis' facial grimaces and tics but ensuring that his character isn't a mere impersonation. He's an arrogant, drug-addled punk who quickly has to learn to deal with an older, wiser self who has the knowledge of what happens in the future. Bruce Willis brings more emotional depth to his role than I had been expecting, and is probably as much a standout as Gordon-Levitt. Seeing the two together is thrilling, particularly in a scene that recalls the De Niro-Pacino face-off in Heat.

Rian Johnson's view of the future is another of the film's assets. It's an easily identifiable version of any American city. Many parts are simply more run-down versions of what stands today, whereas other parts - the rich areas - have simply grown in magnitude. The poor people shuffle around in abject poverty; the low and middle classes have to make do with old cars that have been crudely modified to presumably meet some sort of environmental regulation; the rich cruise around in ridiculously expensive modes of transport whilst doing their damndest to avoid the dirty masses. There's probably a message in there somewhere. It's probably the most accurate depiction of life in the near future this side of Idiocracy.

If you're one of those viewers who revels in trying to work out the details and conundrums that a time travel movie presents, you'll no doubt have a ball with trying to unravel Looper. For me, it made sense in the end, but I'm still not convinced with a couple of parts - at one stage I thought the projectionist mistakenly ran the same reel over again, until I realised that (a) films are projected digitally now, so there's nothing to get out of order, (b) projectionists are no longer a specialised job and the gear is probably run by a sixteen year old work experience kid, and (c) that I was a moron because the film soon explained itself. Think of the time travel aspect of Looper as less Terminator and more...its own self-contained universe and you'll do fine.

Johnson paces the film well, though there are a few sluggish points when we meet Emily Blunt's character. Although there's nothing wrong with these scenes - she is terrific, as is the kid who plays her son - it does slacken the film a little. Frankly, that's the biggest criticism I have of Looper. Johnson shoots the film with style, but never over-indulges himself like some directors tend to do. The action scenes come in bursts and are thrillingly handled, and there's some messy violence that earns the film's MA rating. Thankfully, CGI doesn't feel overused, and when it does come to the fore in a couple of standout scenes it is beautifully done. The cinematography is strong - Looper has a dark, gritty, noir-ish feel - and the pumping, industrial score by Nathan Johnson (related to Rian?) effectively amps up the action when called for.

So, there's little else left to say other than stop reading about Looper and just go out and see the damn thing. A wonderful, original script and great performances - Willis in particular has never been better. A tricky, time-travel based plot that you have to wrap your head around. Some exciting action scenes and an all-too-plausible vision of the near future. It's fantastic; go see it, then see it again straight after, even if you're still scratching your head.
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