Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano
Running Time: 118 min
Release: 28 September
Time travel hurts. It starts off with a “wouldn’t it be cool…”, drifts towards a “but then surely?…” and ends in a runaway brain train of timelines, causality and transdimensional crochet. Doctor Who casually sidestepped any such mental knots with a throw away line reducing it to a “big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff”. Take this same logical loophole with you into Rian Johnson’s brilliantly fresh new sci-fi film and you’ll walk away having learned to stop worrying and love time travel.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Joseph (Gordon-?) Simmons, a Looper, which is future jargon for a hitman dealing exclusively in the execution of undesirables who’ve been whipped back 30 years from the future’s future. The premise is nuts, but Johnson isn’t afraid to follow through, and builds a dense and authentic world around it. The early parts of the film are overflowing with imagination, and it relishes testing the boundaries of its own universe. All of these incredible ideas are put to play with the arrival of Bruce Willis, Joe’s future self and latest target. The battle of wills between these two iterations of the same man—both tragic in completely different ways—is Looper’s ultimate payoff.
However the film changes pace in its second half, putting this conflict on the back burner as new characters and ideas take the fore. The young Joe encounters Sara (Emily Blunt), the secluded mother of a troubled young boy, while the older purses the enigmatic brutal gang leader The Rainmaker. All of Blunt’s scenes take place on a remote rural homestead, a unique setting for this kind of movie, and one that certainly makes sense in the context of the story—though it’s also possible that the films reported $30m budget had something to do with it. All this farmyard drama also feels symptomatic of the film’s ultimate flaw; its tendency to ignore its strongest assets. As it moves away from Joe’s conflict with himself, its conceptual time travel playground and its crime fueled urban future setting, it also moves away from what makes it so special.
Regarding said minuscule budget, Johnson has clearly pulled a loaves and fishes job—also known as a District 9—on Looper; the film just looks incredible. Subtle make up tweaks bring Gordon-Levitt in line with a young Bruce Willis, so much so that a sequence showing the transformation over 30 years plays seamlessly. Said sequence is presented with a serene dreamlike brutality, while the meat of the film has a stylish discipline to its presentation, pragmatically utilizing digital effects and perfectly complementing the efficiency of the story telling.
Great science fiction takes an outlandish concept and grounds it with an emotional core, a human story. However few can boast to the kind of intrinsic welding of sci-fi concept and human interest as Looper, or indeed to offering such imaginative science fiction to begin with. It’s not 100% successful, almost feeling negligent in it’s third act. Regardless, it doesn’t take a time traveler to know we’ll be talking about Looper for years to come.