Just from a viewing of the trailer for “Looper” one would get the feeling that the film is just a futuristic thriller based on time travel, but believe me, there is a whole lot more going on in “Looper” than that. When I entered the cinema to watch the film, I was doing so on the name value of Rian Johnson, the writer / director of “Looper”. I absolutely adored his previous feature, the caper comedy “The Brothers Bloom”, and was thoroughly looking forward to his new film but had deliberately stayed away from learning too much about it beforehand. The film was made with little about the plot being given out with the exception that it was going to be a sci-fi film, but eventually information started to trickle out. Still when the trailer finally arrived, I found myself only watching it the once, and to be honest, it was a little disappointing; I thought it looked very generic. However, I was always going to see it regardless because it was Rian Johnson’s new film, and I am happy to report that “Looper” turned out to be the most intelligent and entertaining “mainstream” film that I have had the pleasure to sit through at the multiplexes in quite some time.
Like everything I seem to review on this blog, “Looper” is best when you know as little as possible about it going in, so I will only give you the bare essentials. “Looper” is set in the future in the year 2042, a time when time-travel has yet to be invented. Thirty years from that future though it has been invented and then immediately outlawed. However if a criminal organization wants a target eliminated and all traces of his existence gone, they illegally send the target back in time to the year 2042 where they are assassinated by a select group of men known as loopers. The job of a looper is a grand one because it pays well and you get to live the high life which in the future of 2042 is something a lot of folks do not get to see, as it appears the world is completely rundown and the economy has collapsed. The only rule of being a looper is that you cannot ever let your target escape, even if the target is your future self. Our main character Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper and has abided by this rules and enjoyed its perks since getting the job, however when the inevitable day comes that his future self is sent back to him, he is initially distracted by the appearance of his older self, which gives the Old Joe (Bruce Willis) the time to knock him out and escape. Knowing he has broken the ultimate rule of a looper, Joe realizes that he must find his future self before he himself is eliminated for failing in his duties. While he is intent on finding and killer his future self, something is bugging him about the appearance of the Old Joe. Normally when his victims are sent to him they are bound and hooded, where as his older self was neither. It soon becomes a battle over whose life is more important or worthy to be saved as both versions of the same man are fighting for their lives.
That is a pretty convoluted and confusing write up about the film, but let me tell you that I have truly left out the majority of the film’s secrets and plot. One thing that I loved while watching “Looper” was that it suddenly hit me that I had no idea what was going to happen next. I cannot tell you the last time I entered a film and didn’t know what to expect, but it was exhilarating. As I mentioned above, I thought “Looper” was an absolutely amazing film experience, it was brilliantly written, filled with complex ideas and characters and it went to places, both dark (very dark) and deep, that I was not expecting. I mention the film being brave and that is because it actually has the balls to follow through on an idea that would be shocking for most, and yet is crucial for the film to work in a serious manner. It is very hard to talk about without giving anything away but it is along the lines of the idea of whether or not you would be able to kill Hitler as a child (whilst he is still innocent of any crime) if you knew of the atrocities he would commit in the future. I can understand film distributors would be very uncomfortable with this part of the film and I am sure it would have made the film hard to get made because of it, but even though it is so disturbing, I love the fact that the filmmakers were brave enough to follow through with the idea and not dodge it.
In terms of filmmaking, Rian Johnson continues to get better and more confident with each film. He really knows how to use the camera to tell his story and yet he is never overly flashy with his camera moves. It is a well known fact that I love the visual side of cinema, and again, I was blown away by the visuals of “Looper”. For a futuristic time-travel thriller, the look of the film is quite subdued; it is not filled with flying cars, laser beams or giant metropolises, it actually has an old time feel to it which I really responded to. Particularly when they end up in the corn fields of Kansas, it actually had a 1950’s feel to it all. Production design on “Looper” is never flashy, but is incredibly detailed and the world created feels real and lived in, making it much more believable than the CGI filled worlds we are now so used to in futuristic films these days. The glorious widescreen photography by Johnson’s regular cinematographer, Steve Yedlin, is the highlight of the film for me, especially again during the scenes at the house in the corn fields. His use of the autumn colours of brown and yellows are masterful and he creates both an inviting and sinister environment around the same place.
Acting wise, the majority of the cast does a great job. Current “it” guy of the moment, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as the younger version of Joe intent on fulfilling his job description and hunting down his future self. Levitt has undergone some facial adjustments here (in an attempt to make it more plausible that he would grow to look like Bruce Willis) and the effects are marvelous. It is very obvious that it is Levitt playing the character, but your eyes know that something is different about him but it is hard to pinpoint what exactly, and yet it is never distracting. I have got to admit, I really liked his look in “Looper”, it gave him a much harder edge than he usually portrays. The older Joe is played by Bruce Willis, and if there is any weakness in the film it is in his performance. He just plays the role too broadly and doesn’t seem to commit to the role as strongly as Levitt. It is not that he is bad in the role, but there still seems to be a lot of “Bruce Willis” in his portrayal; he doesn’t lose himself in the character. My favourite performance in “Looper” though is from the always magnificent Emily Blunt, who plays the character of Sara, and lives in the house situated in the cornfields I keep mentioning. Blunt, a British thespian, plays an Southern American here and I thought her accent was so spot-on and convincing, she is just amazing. I do not want to reveal too much about her role here but I will say that a lot of the heart and emotion of the film comes from her character and because of this she has a number of demanding scenes which she performs perfectly. At times she has to be incredibly tough, while moments later she needs to be tender, and she transitions from each mood very smoothly and realistically. As well as these three main roles, both Paul Dano and especially Jeff Daniels provide great support in smaller roles; in fact I thought Daniels was brilliantly cast against type.
I briefly mentioned the script before which has been smartly written and importantly hasn’t been dumbed down for its audience. Johnson clearly respects his audience and their intelligence and as such doesn’t overemphasize moments in an attempt to make sure we understand and thus losing the magic of the said moments. While up front and center, “Looper” certainly appears to be a thriller about time travel, this actually isn’t the case. The film has a much more emotional center and has more to do with love, or how far people are willing to go for the loved ones in their lives. As such the time travel aspect is more of a device and is often put into the background. Knowing that the themes of “Looper” are more important than the time travel aspect of the story, Johnson doesn’t want the audience to get too caught up in the paradoxes of time travel and as such he has two characters at different times in the film mention this very point with Jeff Daniels’ character saying it best when he says “This time travel crap, just fries your brain like an egg….”.
Overall, I absolutely loved Rian Johnson’s “Looper”, and it was definitely the best mainstream film I have seen in a very long time. Every aspect of the film was done brilliantly and thoughtfully, and something rare in cinema these days, “Looper” has a perfect ending, that relies less on guns and more on heart. I cannot recommend this film enough, so even if you were put off by the generic trailer, I urge you to take a chance on “Looper” because I am sure you will get a lot more out of it than you would be expecting.