Any film taking on the tricky task of time travel is susceptible to audience over-questioning, an over-questioning that can wobble the table and cause the house of cards to come tumbling down. Knowing that audiences are well aware of paradoxes and impossibilities and will ruin the film with their continual queries, writer/director Rian Johnson puts in two expositional exchanges with his lead character – one with Joe and his boss (Jeff Daniels) and one with Joe and himself (Bruce Willis) – in which the characters pretty much turn to the audience and say “Stop it. Stop questioning. Shut up. Enjoy the show.” You’d be wise to take their advice.
“Time travel has not been invented yet,” muses Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s assassin, Joe, “But 30 years from now, it will have been.” The sole use of this newfangled technology is to send bad guys from the future to bad guys in the past for their immediate execution and disappearance. This death penalty is carried out by ‘Loopers’, hired assassins who know that one day they will be taking out their own future selves in order to ‘close the loop’. Needless to say, letting your target get away is bad news for all involved. Even if, especially if, that target is you…
Already the questions will be flying. But, once again, “Stop it” because Looper is a huge amount of fun, a rollercoaster in the best possible way and asking pointless inquiries like, “Why are criminals only using time travel for body disposal?”, can really harsh the buzz. That doesn’t mean that Looper is mindless, far from it, but you’re better off asking questions of character and plot than of the world at large and the mechanics of a concept that can’t actually work without putting a hefty kibosh on all that we know and love about the universe.
So, onto the fun stuff. Predictably most of this is best seen with your own eyes than described in a few words here, but it’s not overly spoilerific to state that when ‘Gordon-Levitt Joe’ comes face to face with ‘Bruce Willis Joe’ fireworks ensue. In many films this meet might have led to a double act in which they team up to right the wrongs of those in charge but Looper is far too savvy to fall into any trappings of seen-it-all-before. Even if it is a form of suicide young Joe is adamant that he’ll kill his older self the first chance he gets.
It seems a tad unfair that Joseph should be the one in hours of make-up to look like a younger Bruce, when Bruce is, truth be told, on-screen for about a quarter of the time Joseph is. But in Hollywood the star is still the star and that star is Bruce, with Looper arguably his best work since the last time he jumped into a time-travel pod in Twelve Monkeys. Accusations of bias in regards to prostethics notwithstanding, this is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s film and he fits the role like a black leather glove. Broody, tortured, but above all professional, his Joe is the type to fuck his best friend over for a few bars of silver.
Not that he’s granted the lion’s share of the unsympathetic hero. That comes courtesy of Mr. Willis in a scene breathtakingly strong in its fearlessness which will, rightly, inspire gasps from audience members used to a certain safety in mainstream cinema. The scene in question may have been hinted at before in the third, and worst, Terminator film but it’s played here with absolutely no holds barred. How often lately can you say of a Hollywood film that you’ve been genuinely shocked or taken aback? Looper repeats this trick several times.
There are minor faults. Amongst the most damning is the directors persistent insistence to let us know he’s about. Rian Johnson has a tendency to show off his camera trickery with flashy cuts and edits that ultimately become detrimental to the emotion of the film. In the genre of Sci-Fi absurd camera angles and demented slow motion are tricks of the trade but Johnson doesn’t know when to have a day off. The resonance of the ending suffers for this, especially after his exceptional actors and canny script have done so much hard work.
There’s also an unquestionable lag in the mid-section, where the film suffers from ‘Walking Dead Syndrome’; namely characters stuck on a farm for too long. It’s during this section that the maudlin pondering element takes over from the fun. Wink-wink jokes being replaced with ruminations on guilt and judgement. But Looper needs these questions to be asked in order to advance itself to a higher ground. The shift from ‘cool and brave new world’ to ‘downbeat philosophy in a field’ may be too jarring for some but it’s in giving the audience something other than what they expect that Looper really stand out.
Put simply, Looper is the best science fiction film of the year and will no doubt be well worthy of contention among the best films of the year, period.
Clever, inventive, witty, Rian Johnson’s latest does what all good science fiction movies should do; it twists your noggin in the greatest of possible ways. Looper also has the added bonus of asking a myriad of philosophical questions about life and death, while never for a second skimping on the kind of action scenes you’d expect from a film that features Bruce Willis running around with a big fat gun. See it. More than once.