Review: Looper (2012)
Review by Stephanie Scaife
First things first: the less you know about Looper going in the better. This is definitely the sort of film that benefits from little to no prior knowledge of the plot, so although I will attempt to keep spoilers to a minimum I’d strongly suggest seeing the film before reading this review, or any other reviews for that matter.
Back in 2005 I was completely blown away by Rian Johnson’s awesome debut feature Brick, a teen neo-noir that oozed style and originality. His sophomore effort The Brothers Bloom (2008) was a slightly underwhelming con-man caper that didn’t particularly live up to the promise shown in Brick. However, I am very pleased to report that Johnson is back on form with his new film, Looper, a fantastically dizzying science fiction film that reunites Johnson with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who since shedding his Third Rock from the Sun persona with a frankly astonishing performance in Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin (2004) has been on an upward trajectory every since.
Apparently originally written over ten years ago as a short when Johnson was struggling to get funding for Brick, Looper has successfully been expanded into a feature length film that, once it starts, doesn’t let up for its entire 118 minute running time. We’re told that in 2074 time travel is invented, but is immediately outlawed and is only used by highly organised criminals who in a future where murder has become near impossible due to advances in technology and police procedures have to send their victims back in time to be murdered, making it the perfect crime as the body is untraceable in their present and unrecognisable in their past. These murders take place in 2044 and are carried out by hit men known as Loopers. They wait in a specific location at a specific time, armed with a somewhat archaic weapon called a “Blunderbuss”, a simple yet effective weapon that makes it near impossible to miss anything within 15 feet. The person is sent from the future handcuffed with a bag over their head, the looper shoots them immediately, loots the body for their payment of silver before disposing of it, no questions asked. The two main conditions being that the target must never escape and that when the looper’s contract is over the crime bosses of the future will send their older self back to be killed, leaving a final massive pay off of gold bars and the knowledge that they have just 30 years left to live. This is known as “closing the loop”.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper working in Kansas City under the watchful eye of Abe (Jeff Daniels), who has been sent from the future to run things in the past, and his gang of gun slinging henchmen known as “Gats”, led by the sneering Kid Blue (Noah Segan). Joe goes about his daily business; kills someone, takes his loot, goes to a local diner for some coffee, teaches himself French, indulges in some designer drugs and sex with a showgirl named Suzie (Piper Perabo). However, it soon becomes apparent as more and more loops are closed with increasing frequency that someone in the future is doing away with all the loopers and it’s only a matter of time before Joe is next. In one of my favourite sequences in the film, Joe’s friend Seth (Paul Dano) fails to close his loop, letting his older self escape and we find out exactly what happens to a looper when he breaks this cardinal rule, and believe me it ain’t pretty.
Soon the inevitable happens and Joe comes face to face with Old Joe (Bruce Willis), who manages to evade his younger self. Young Joe is intent on taking out his older self to fulfil his contract and enable him to embark on his lifelong plan to go to France. Old Bruce has other ideas though and wants to track down the Rainmaker, the future person who is behind all of the time travel assassinations, and kill him whilst he is still a boy and before he can ever become a threat. To say much more of what happens after this point in the film would be too much of a spoiler. However, what follows involves a woman named Sara (Emily Blunt), telekinesis and some toy frogs. We also get a quite extraordinary montage sequence of the 30 years of Joe’s life, should he have been successful in assassinating his older self, that is one of the most successful cinematic sequences I’ve seen in a long time. Johnson deserves a great amount of credit for creating a sequence that lasts perhaps just 5 minutes that explains so much, so coherently whilst at the same time invoking some serious emotions and raising some interesting questions about morality and who in the film we as the audience should be rooting for. Morality being one of the central themes of the film, something that it makes clear can never be black or white as all of our characters tread through very grey areas and make some tough decisions.
Looper really is an instant classic, something that you know people will talk about and remember for years to come and will undoubtedly spawn collector’s edition DVDs on every notable anniversary whilst fans pore over the tiny details. It’s a remarkable film that will have genre fans jumping for joy, as it’s a rare occurrence that we get an R-rated, original genre film that does not patronise its audience and assumes that we, as the viewers, are capable of making our own decisions and understanding something that is not a reboot, remake or prequel. Although slightly exposition-heavy at the start, Looper does leave you with unanswered questions that as a viewer you are left to answer for yourself and for that I applaud it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not without flaws, and in particular it’s best not to think too hard about the time travel aspect of the plot, as with many similar films it sometimes falls foul of its own logic. In one scene Abe tells Joe that it’s best not to think too much about time travel as it fries your brain, so at least Looper is self-aware and actively encourages the audience not to get bogged down and to just take things as they come.
I also particularly liked Johnson’s vision of the future: a run down, sun-baked future that seems particularly realistic in its portrayal of how things may actually end up, bringing to mind Children of Men which also offered an all to believable version of the future, making it all the more frightening than the glossy, completely un-relatable future often portrayed on screen.
My main issues with Looper are somewhat superficial; Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce Willis make-over is sort of distracting and weird, but credit to him as an actor to pull off such a strong performance that never resorts to straight up mimicry. As he has such a lovely face naturally it seemed a shame to alter it, I personally would have preferred Bruce to be in the prosthetics. There’s also a rather too convenient coincidence involving Suzie the showgirl that sort of bothered me, but not enough to really dampen my enjoyment of the film overall.
As with Source Code last year, Looper really is a smart and imaginative piece of genre filmmaking that warrants a trip to the cinema. Not only will you find yourself watching a fantastic film but if enough of us go and see it then hopefully it will prove to the powers that be that there is an audience for these sorts of films and we don’t all want to be seeing the likes of Paranormal Activity 4 or some other terrible, production line film with an assumed existing audience. So do yourself a favour and check Looper out.
Looper is currently on wide release from EntertainmentOne.