Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels
“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”
Try your best to forget that irritating and misguided promotional tag line – Looper is a highly satisfying and worthy dose of adult pulp science fiction, perhaps not quite as cool as it desperately wants to be but still a most welcome break to the stale mega-blockbusters clogging up the screens.
What begins as a fairly restrained film noire focused on scrambling your brain with a messy time paradox explored from multiple time-lines, gradually shifts into an explosive Japanese Anime style action fest of bonkers ideas and epic show downs. There’s nothing truly original to be found in the individual ideas but its fusing of genres and plot ideas from across the world of science fiction and fantasy does give Looper an appealing style of its own.
The ever reliable Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a Looper hired to dispose of people sent back through time by gangsters operating 30 years in the future. In their time line advanced forensics have apparently made disposing of bodies impossible and so sending them into the past through illegal time machines seems like the most economical method. Yes, it is a lot to swallow, and there is plenty more where that came from once Joe finds that his latest job is one which every Looper is contracted to eventually carry out: disposing of his own future self. This begins a confusing and entertaining game of cat and mouse with a man who knows his past self’s every move and has his own mysterious reason to avoid completing his contract. The dynamics of a time travel paradox are always difficult to express through visual narrative and Looper clealry opts to avoid the matter all together, sticking to the task of providing cool ideas, dramatic twists, and confusing agendas, rather than adhering to logic and theoretical physics. Pedants no doubt will be reduced to trying to eat their own heads in frustration.
The accelerating wackiness of the latter half of the movie, especially the unexpected switch to more paranormal ideas, will no doubt leave some people being left cold, and those who particularly enjoyed the first half may feel a bit let down by what could have been a solid time travel noodle-scratcher. It is difficult to say whether a more focused idea would have made Looper a better film but its lack of cohesion does become notable.
In general the depiction of a run down, crime ridden future gives Looper a much needed sense of reality. The warn down, basic technology and clothing of this distopian future America bears a rather cool retro style, possibly showing the regression of American civilisation in a world where China has become the superpower. The Blunderbuss guns, revolvers, studded heels, seem to hark back to the Wild West, and there is a strange mixture of spaghetti western and film noire to the plot. Bounty Hunters roam the mid west town on hover bikes (instead of horses) while entire cities appear to be ruled by gangsters and outlaws. As we go 30 years further into the future a more organised crime syndicate rules America, with henchmen fully kitted out in prohibition style mob garb.
Yet after the considerable hype and the cock sure way the film believes its own sense of style it comes as a surprise to find that some of the special effects are a little amateur. A particularly ropey looking hover-bike barely improves on the primitive masking effects seen in the original Star Wars, and a moment which see’s characters suspended in the air may provoke a wince and an awkward look away from the screen. Some oddly lackluster shoot outs are ruined by a camera showing someone wildly shooting a gun in different directions, only to quickly cut to bodies lying prostrate on the floor, undermining any fluidity or impact. It has to be said that pumping action is never Looper’s strong point and there certainly aren’t any scenes strong enough to inspire future films to market themselves as “this generations Looper” (Cough). Luckily action is only one of the many genres included. The narrative refuses to stay still and jumps from time travel, mystery, suspense, gangsters, cat and mouse chase always keeping things fresh and, most importantly, unpredictable. There are even some totally unexpected moments of inspired horror delivered by a very young child.
Being a time travel paradox there was a certain amount of expectation that director Rian Johnson would leave things on a clever ambiguous note of whether Joe manages to break the time travel cycle or if his actions simply set everything back in motion. With films like this there are usually reams of internet space taken up by interpretations and smart ass pricks taking the idea much further than it was intended. It might then come as a disappointment to fanboys the world over to find that Johnson has just come out and revealed the straight forward ‘it happened just as you saw it’ explanation.