Running Time: 118 minutes
Reviewer: David Gillespie -HCF Official Artist
Time travel is a subject that never fails to interest me. Having endured a plethora of uninventive, special effect borefests this year, Rian Johnson’s Looper delivers a bizarre, sci-fi thriller bursting with ideas. Not all of these ideas hit the mark but fortunately for the viewer, most hit the target. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Looper is that it is not exactly what it says on the tin. The trailers would indicate a fast moving, action adventure yet the film is sombre, bad spirited and for the most part action free, bar an escape from a rundown diner and a brief but explosive shootout in a mob den.
The plot is set in 2044, and also a further 30 years ahead of this. In 2074, time travel is discovered but banned by the government. Organised crime make full use of this illegal technology to rid themselves of rival bosses, problematic employees etc. Victims are cuffed, masked and stuffed in a time machine to be sent to the past for execution. The termination is the job of an assassin called a Looper. When the target appears in an isolated field or waste ground in 2044, they are greeted by the sound of gunfire as their guts are splatted across a field by a huge shotgun called a Blunderbuss. Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is one of the most reliable Loopers. He discovers that a failure to anialate their target will not be tolerated by his employers when his friend and colleague, Seth (Paul Dano) is executed on the spot when he loses his nerve while given the task to dispose of his future self. Part of the contract agreement is that at some point in your career you will have to close your loop (i.e. murder yourself). In return, you get 30 years of living the high life before you are killed. Joe also fails in wiping out his older self (Bruce Willis). Rather than chase the more experienced assassin, young Joe waits at the farm house of 10-year-old Cid (Pierce Gagnon) and mum, Sara (Emily Blunt) who appear to be targets for execution by the older Joe. It seems Cid might have a connection in the future with an indestructable mob boss called the Rainmaker. Does this all make sense? Erm, maybe?
The fun aspect of Rian Johnson’s ripping yarn is that it repeatedly surprises you. Just as the pace dips when young Joe meets Cid and Sarah, a supernatural plot twist (similar to The Fury) turns things, literally, on its head. To reveal too much will spoil things but you’ll recognize and fully appreciate the scene when it transpires.
Johnston begins the story in a low key but stylish manner. The sequences where Joe kills his targets in silent cornfields are shocking and brutal. This macabre theme permeates throughout the film as we witness in gory detail the consequences of a Looper (Paul Dano) failing to murder his future self. That is not to say that the film is not funny. There are some witty lines peppered amongst the script and some wonderful sight gags too. Perhaps my favourite is when Bruce Willis blasts a cafe window with his pistol to make a quick getaway. He then proceeds to jump clumsily through the intact pane beside it.
The cast members all tackle their roles admirably. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to add to his impressive collection of recent movies (i.e. Dark Knight Rises, Inception, 50/50) with a sound performance albeit one where his face is heavily made-up to resemble that of Bruce Willis. Jeff Daniels is fantastic in a short but hilarious turn as a mob boss sent back from the future to oversee the work being carried out by the Loopers. In his ten minutes or so of screen time he has created the most laidback villain in cinema history. Emily Blunt is underused and tagged on as the love interest for the younger Joe. Finally Bruce Willis is as reliable as always as the experienced but troubled, older version of Joe.
Some might find that the second half of the film does not achieve the high standards of the first or that a large proportion of the clever setup is left unresolved, but Looper is a fresh and entertaining, if somewhat eccentric, sci-fi thriller.