Looper - movie reviewMuch as we all like to salute the truly original thinkers, there’s a lot to be said for those whose skill lies more in mixing and matching the tried and tested. If Looper is any guide, writer/director Rian Johnson is not someone to hit up for ideas that are startlingly new or fresh. If you’re after a film that takes a whole lot of ideas you’ve seen before and turns them into something intelligently, relentlessly entertaining though, he’s the man to call.
It’s the year 2044 and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is a hitman for the mob, only the mob is another thirty-odd years in the future. It seems that in the future (well, the further future) disposing of the mobs rubbish—aka bodies—is all but impossible thanks to “tagging”. But luckily organised crime has time travel so they just send the people they want dead back in time to a point where a waiting hitman—known as a Looper—can blast them the second they appear.
Okay, none of this makes any sense. Why not kill the people in the future and just send their bodies back? Why not send their bodies back a couple of million years and let nature take its course? Then it gets even more unlikely: the reason why these hitmen are called Loopers is because at some point in the future their future selves will be sent back for their younger selves to kill, just to tidy up any loose ends (AKA “closing the loop”). Once you kill yourself, you get to retire and enjoy the thirty years you’ve got until the mob comes for you. Clearly no Looper ever died from being hit by a bus or cancer or anything else during those thirty years they spent just hanging out waiting to die.
(You’d think that maybe the 2072 mob only lets their guys in the past hire Loopers who the 2072 mob knows live to 2072 so they can send them back to die. But the fact the future mob is in 2072 and the movie is set in 2044 suggests that’s not quite the case.)
The important thing is none of those increasingly confusing questions matter in the slightest. Right from the start Johnson is so confident in putting his film together that the usual head-scratching moments this kind of set-up would raise simply don’t occur. Why do some people have the ability to make quarters float? Why has 2044 civilisation turned into an even grimmer re-run of the Great Depression? Why is dressing like a 1940s tough-guy the height of fashion? Why would anyone bother with a drug you drop onto your eyeball? Maybe Johnson will get around to explaining, maybe not: the ride’s too much fun to worry about things like that.
It’s no real surprise that Joe’s life of hanging around sleazy nightclubs, learning French and throwing bodies into a furnace is eventually disrupted by the arrival of his future self (Bruce Willis). Thankfully, young Joe is not the kind of guy to go “oh no, despite everything I’ve told you about how I’m a badass and how killing my future self is part of the job, faced with future me I can’t pull the trigger”: he pulls the trigger all right but old Joe kicks his ass (not the last time Joe gets knocked out in this film; Johnson does love his 1940’s tough guy tropes) and runs off to take care of business, leaving young Joe to try to finish him off before the mob (run by Jeff Bridges) decides to take them both out.
All that takes up roughly the first third of the film; from there it turns into an almost-but-not-quite-western, with young Joe hiding out on a farm belonging to Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young son just waiting for the bad guys to show up for the final shoot-out. That’s not even the biggest twist this film has in store. Much of Looper’s charm comes from the way it constantly throws ideas at the audience – not necessarily original ideas or ones it develops much, but when there’s this many of them and the film is this well put together that’s hardly cause for complaint.
Gordon-Levitt played the lead in Johnson’s first film, the 40s-murder-mystery-only-set-in-a-present-day-high-school, Brick, and Joe is basically another spin on the whole hard-boiled, self-loathing tough guy cliche he played there. It’s a role he knows how to bring to life, and even with the make-up and CGI required to make him look like someone who could conceivably grow into Bruce Willis he does a great job of being a tough guy with a soft centre that gets mushier as the film goes along.
Willis does just as well as a softie who has to act tough one last time, and with a minimum of dialogue he really comes across as a man being eaten up by the world he’s found himself back in. Blunt sinks her teeth into the material she’s given here, and there isn’t a false note to be found amongst the supporting cast – especially Pierce Gagnon as Blunt’s five year-old son, who thankfully isn’t asked to be yet another cute little kid.
In between the great performances there’s loads of action; shoot-outs, punch-ups and chase scenes (and at least one strangely beautiful death involving someone exploding in slow-motion). But the real pleasure of Looper is the pleasure of seeing a film put together by someone in complete control of what he’s doing. It’s a film filled with tiny payoffs in between the bigger ones, a film that treats the audience as people capable of remembering what happened an hour ago, people who can put the pieces together without being given all the instructions. It’s a film that respects your intelligence; that kind of thing is always welcome.
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