Looper: A Review

Looper – Dir: Rian Johnson; *ing: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels

 1.21 gigawatts not required

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Love movies about time travel but the accompanying pseudo-scientific gobbledegook gives you a headache? Then look no further than Looper, a film that treads the familiar space-time dis-continuum path but with a smart twist, and also elegantly side-steps the oft-troublesome geek-babble that can turn such a potentially enjoyable cinematic excursion into a mind-numbing fantasy-physics lecture by a PhD student on a speedball of Ritalin and caffeine. “I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws,” says Older Joe (Willis) to his younger self (Gordon-Levitt) as they sit across from each other at a diner; mob boss Abe (Daniels) puts it even more succinctly, “This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…” And both the movie and its audience are better off that writer/director Johnson chooses to forego overwrought explanations for gripping story. For the element of time travel is important to Looper but also kind of incidental, its emotional core looking more to the notions of unconditional love, sacrifice, and redemption, rather than hi-octane bombast. But there is plenty to admire here for action nerds as well, so one could say that Looper is this year’s Source Code.

Joe is a ‘looper’ – a hit-man hired by a crime syndicate in the year 2044 to kill and dispose of targets sent back in time – bound and hooded – from thirty years in the future when time travel has been invented and quickly outlawed and has become the underworld’s go-to method for committing murders that are untraceable. It’s easy and plenty money but there’s a catch: at some point, the loop will be closed, meaning the looper will be sent his own future self to assassinate, a sign that he has been forcibly retired and has exactly thirty years to spend his hard-earned fortune before he’s sent back thirty years to… well, you get it. The ‘excrement-hits-the-fan’ moment comes when Joe’s latest intended victim arrives minus the hood and his realization that it’s himself unnerves him enough so that Older Joe is able to escape – a mob no-no because if it’s one thing they hate it’s loose ends. And here is where Looper throws us for a loop as well: quite contrary to the scenario that one might imagine at this point, of present and future Joe bonding and riffing and exchanging Willis-ian wisecracks and vowing to fight for world peace as a tag-team, the two are instead at cross purposes, Older Joe’s emotion-driven but violent (and straight-up chilling) agenda quite at odds with the path that his young self finds himself adhering to when he lands up at the isolated farmhouse of feisty, no-nonsense Sara (Blunt) and her little tyke Cid.

Looper confirms yet again a theory that Hollywood nevertheless repeatedly ignores, that a film doesn’t have to follow a mindless boom-a-minute formula of random explosions and endless chase sequences in order to be classified as a first-rate sci-fi actioner; that a film of this sort can – shock, horror! – take the time to develop characters and a compelling narrative arc and still provide plenty of heart-stopping moments. For even this reason alone, Looper, despite its loopholes, is a riveting watch. But it doesn’t hurt that it also has some terrifically nuanced performances from Blunt and Daniels and particularly Willis, who brings a wonderful sad-eyed, wistful edge to his character’s ruthless pursuit of a horrifying goal.

As younger Joe, Gordon-Levitt hits it out of the park in this latest in a steady run of solid outings in the past two years. He doesn’t just pack on some muscle onto his usually slender frame but also a fair amount of facial prosthetics in order to more believably resemble Willis as his older self. So it is all the more impressive that he doesn’t let that hinder his performance one bit, infusing Joe with all the confusion, turmoil, and, finally, steely resolve, that one imagines would come with the looper’s predicament. This is the actor’s third collaboration with Johnson, and together, they have again created a narrative that first sets up genre conventions/expectations and then defies them without flinching, resulting in a work that is intelligent, involving and also a cracking good caper.

Cult: Back To The Future (1985) – Robert Zemeckis set the bar way high with this time-travelling comedy that birthed two sequels and made Michael J. Fox a star.

Current: Premium Rush – Get more Gordon-Levitt with this summer’s surprisingly effective thriller about a bike messenger caught up in dangerous circumstances.

Coming Attraction: A Good Day To Die Hard (2013) – Bruce Willis will don indestructible cop John McClane’s dirty vest for the fifth time – yippie ki-yay!

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