Looper is a difficult film to write about. Period. But it is almost impossible to discuss it without making some spoilers. So consider yourself warned. But, like me, if you’ve just seen the film you’ll be itching to discuss it and hear what other people have said. It’s that sort of film. A clever, compelling SF story that confounds expectations and raises many questions.
S P O I L E R S
This is about as current as my movie reviews are likely to be. Looper only opened last week in the UK and I saw it on good old cheap Tuesday night at the local multiplex. In retrospect, I now remember why I normally leave big, hyped films like this to drop out of the news and see them a couple of weeks down the line. My expectations are then lowered, and with Looper my expectations were ludicrously high. To be honest I didn’t really know exactly what to expect. The trailers don’t really give a lot away. It’s a film about assassins in a future society doing the dirty work of an even further future society’s mob chiefs thanks to the benefits of time travel. It’s a clever set-up and could have resulted in the usual Hollywood SF fodder, with a pretty boy star at its helm cracking wise, shooting bad guys and wearing as much product placement as possible, but from the mind of Rian Johnson (who wrote and directed the sublime Brick) we are presented with something much braver, more layered and ultimately more satisfying. The film takes you in one direction and then just as you think you’re settling into its rhythm it heads off on another completely random vector. From city-based dystopian SF to paranoid on-the-run thriller to emotional, sun-drenched scenes on a farm, with swaying fields of cane.
Once you emerge from the cinema, feeling rather dizzy, it is almost impossible not to start examining the mechanics of a film that involves time travel, but this is a mistake with Looper. Through the mouths of Jeff Daniels character, Abe and through Bruce Willis’ old Joe, we are given explicit stage directions not to think too hard about the time travel aspects, because it’s ‘cloudy’ and it ‘will fry your brain like an egg’.
I think that’s one of the secrets to truly enjoying the film. Switch off your inner critic and be swept up in it. Then you will be taken in by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s drug-eyed killer who finds a conscience, and Emily Blunt’s strong-willed farm-girl/mother, and the incredible Pierce Gagnon’s telekinetically-powered child, and Noah Segan’s child-like, fumbling junior mobster. This film’s heart and soul is its characters and its dialogue and its beautifully realised (and believable) future-world. It’s a joy to see so much time spent developing characters and for the writing to shine through, not afraid to spend some slower moments in their company. It makes the emotional scenes pop all the more effectively. Particularly when young Cid’s incipient powers burst to the fore.
I have some issues which I can’t quite resolve, and therefore detract from what could have been an almost perfect film. One is the voiceover narration. Hard to communicate the important stuff without it, but it feels a little lazy and is not used consistently. I wish they had explored the ramifications of the time travel a little more. In many ways the time travel is only a small part of the film, even though it is set up as such a major aspect of it. In particular, I would have liked to have seen more texture and detail to Old Joe’s motivations for coming back. I felt Bruce Willis was underused, despite some standout scenes from him, including a relentless massacre. As always with films like this, the female characters are afterthoughts, apart from Emily Blunt’s Sara, which does rescue Looper from having no other female characters except a double-crossing whore and a saint who has no dialogue.
This is adventurous cinema of the sort that I wish would come around more often. Instead we have a film as confident, well-written and cliché-defying coming around maybe once every ten years if we’re lucky. Rian Johnson is a film-maker to keep a very close eye on. This is cinema with style to spare, and the kind of film that makes me want to watch it again and again.