The cast/crew bit: written/directed by Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis & Emily Blunt
The ten-word synopsis: 2044: a futuristic assassin has to assassinate his future self.
We are living in a post-Inception world. Ever since Christopher Nolan not just got the backing to make possibly the most ambitious film of the last ten years, but also made it a success, studios have been clamouring to find ‘the next Inception’. Last year we saw the likes of The Adjustment Bureau and we’ve only just been hit by Total Recall, which was a pretty desperate attempt to cash in on the sudden interest in smart action movies. Neither of these matched either the box-office or critical success of the Nolan film, with the dream-bending masterwork looking further and further out of reach. Not so much anymore. Rian Johnsons’ Looper is the first of the new breed of smart sci-fi thrillers to not only match Inception blow-for-blow, but to also surpass it with a few sneaky hits of its own.
Let’s leave the comparisons for a moment, though, as Loopers’ plot is an original concoction dreamt up by Johnson before he’d even directed his first feature, 2004’s Brick. Set in 2044, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Who was also in Inception) plays Joe, a Looper. While time travel still hasn’t been invented in 2044, 30 years later, it will have been, and will immediately be outlawed, as Joe explains to us in the films’ opening segment. The mobs are the only people using time travel and so, when they want to make somebody “Disappear”, they simply send them back in time to a specific spot, at a specific time, where a Looper shall be ready and waiting for them with a blunderbus, a specific type of gun used to take out targets at close range. The most important rule of being a Looper is that you never, ever let your target get away. Unfortunately, this is just what Joe does one day, after a target appears without the customary sack on their head, and Joe realises that this particular target is himself. To go any further is to dabble our feet in the waters of spoilers, and trust us, you want to go into Looper as clean as possible.
Older Joe is played by Bruce Willis, who continues to cement his place as an actual, high-quality actor as well as the big name people expect. Gordon-Levitt spends the whole film caked in make up to make him look more like Willis, which is surprisingly effective. More than this, though, he has Willis’ nuances nailed down to a tee, doing the trademark raised-eyebrow-smirk better than the man himself. I’m a big fan of the man affectionately known as JGL, as proven at this link, and he puts in another stellar performance here. At the heart of Looper is not a sci-fi movie, but a character study, and Gordon-Levitt plays to this. He gives his character scope and presence that very few other actors could manage, even with the same terrific script. (Oh, and Emily Blunt is also great from the moment she turns up, almost an hour in)
Gordon-Levitts’ innate likeability is a gift that make the film so much more engaging, and the same can be said for Willis, a man who has spent the past 30 years making the ‘sensitive tough guy’ role his own. Joe is a fascinating character, and having two of him, one so much older and wiser than the other, but lacking the foresight that his younger self seems to have. The moment, for me, Looper went from being a ‘Very good science-fiction movie’ to a stone-cold classic comes about an hour in. It’s an incredibly powerful, moving scene that many actors of Bruce Willis reputation and stature would never have greed to do. It showcases how desperate old Joe is, and how he’s changed. You’ll know what I’m talking about once you’ve seen the film, and you’ll probably agree with me when I say it’s one of the single most striking moments you’ll find at the cinema in 2012.
The fact that I’m only just touching on time-travel here, now, for just a bit reflects the film. In fact, Willis even deters Gordon-Levitt from talking about time travel during their first confrontation, to save them being there all day. It uses time travel as a gimmick, and it explores that gimmick fully, but it is not really a film about time travel, it’s a film about a man and his desperation to find what he seeks. The use of time travel is very smart. It does require effort to follow, but it’s nothing strenuous. It twists and turns. It creates paradoxes and fixes them. It shows us alternative timelines. It feels like Johnson is really getting stuck into this, as though it’s his only chance to have a shot at a genre movie in this way.
In fact, it feels as though Johnson really embraces every element of the filmmaking process. The film is extremely well-edited, with transitions seamless and pauses used to great effect. The dialogue is excellent, with an unexpectedly high number of laugh-out-loud funny lines as well as a few really touching, heartfelt moments thrown in for good measure. The action scenes are well-shot, with Johnson never feeling the need to resort to the shakey camera that seems to be taking over the industry, opting for his own style consisting of wide, panning shots instead of the Nolan-esque ultra-still camerawork. A couple of gunfights occasionally leave a little to be desired, but it’s never more than a little. The whole thing is meticulously well-crafted.
In fact, I’d go as far as saying Looper is an example of somebody out-Christopher Nolaning Christopher Nolan. Just as smart but half as confusing, Looper manages to be a funnier, more heartfelt and generally more enjoyable movie than Inception on most levels. Whether it’s better is up for debate, but it can’t be denied that, as of the 28th of September, we can stop waiting for ‘The next Inception’ and simply begin living in a brand new age. A post-Looper world…
8 futuristic eye-drugs out of 10