Rian Johnson’s time travel thriller arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week and while it isn’t quite the ground-breaking Matrix-esque Sci-Fi spectacle that it was initially billed as, it is nonetheless an impressively atmospheric and engrossing movie.
The central premise is a great one. In the year 2074, time travel has been invented and then immediately outlawed. Criminal gangs have taken to using it to dispose of anyone they need getting rid of. They zap the victim back to 2044 where specially trained ‘loopers’ are there waiting to blow them away. When one of these loopers wishes to cash in, they are able to take a big pay day and live the high life for thirty years before they are then sent back to their younger selves to be killed. This process is known as ‘closing the loop’.
Joseph-Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a young looper who lives a drug-fuelled party lifestyle funded by his lucrative work. He is routinely saving up part of his pay though and appears to be planning his own great escape. Everything takes a turn for the worse however when a fellow looper called Seth shows up at his flat panicking and pleading for Joe’s help. It turns out that Seth was presented with his future self to kill but couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger and let him get away. In amidst his pleas for help, Seth also tells Joe that a mysterious gangland figure called ‘The Rainmaker’ has begun exercising his power and doggedly closing everybody’s loop in the future.
Sure enough, shortly after Seth’s warning Joe is presented with his future self (Bruce Willis) but is unable to finish the job, thus rendering himself a wanted man. Future Joe meanwhile appears determined to hunt out and kill The Rainmaker as a young boy, thereby ensuring he is never involuntarily sent back in time and can remain in the future with his beloved wife. Young Joe stays on his tail, convinced that if he can take out his future self, he will be allowed to live. It all builds to a blistering climax at the remote homestead of Emily Blunt’s Sara whose young son Cid (Peirce Gagnon) appears to play a pivotal role.
It’s a clever and interesting time-travel conceit, though one that isn’t without its plot-holes. However this is clearly an issue which Johnson himself was keen to address. First off he has Jeff Daniels’ crime boss tell Joe, “this time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg”, when he wants to deflect away from some probing questions. Then, later on, future Joe says to young Joe that it’s best not to get too hung up on the science of it all else, “we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” Basically, what Johnson is hammering home here is that it’s best if you just sit back and let the science and paradoxes wash over you. This is sound advice from the director as regardless of any holes you may pick in its story, Looper is one of the most imaginative and striking Sci-Fi movies of recent years.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is superb in the lead role and proves without a doubt that he is ready to be a bona fide Hollywood leading man. The prosthetics used to make him a young Bruce Willis are a little distracting at first but once you get used to them you barely even notice. Willis himself gives one of his best performances in years as the tortured older Joe who is desperate to get back to the one he loves and is willing to do whatever is necessary. Another stand out performance however comes from young Pierce Gagnon as the troubled youngster Cid. From the moment young Joe meets him, we sense that the kid is special and is perhaps hiding a dark secret. This secret is soon revealed in the form of incredibly powerful telekinetic abilities. One stand out scene in the film comes when a gangland henchman arrive to take young Joe away and accidentally makes Cid angry. Cid’s rage manifests itself in an explosive blast of telekinetic power which destroys the entire room and turns the henchman into a bloody pulp. This sequence and several others shows that Johnson has a keen eye for a striking scene and he accompanies this with a wonderfully maintained ominous and threatening tone throughout.
Personally I felt that the opening two-thirds of the film which blends elements of classic Time-Travel movies like Terminator and Twelve Monkeys is far more exciting than the final third which enters more Omen and Children of the Corn style territory. That being said, the final third is still a riveting and gripping piece of filmmaking and the film’s climax certainly packs a strong punch.
It isn’t perhaps as mind-bending and seminal as some critics lauded it as, but Looper is nonetheless an inventive and stylish movie which still holds up on a repeat viewing. There are a host of great performances from a strong cast and it marks Rian Johnson out as a director to watch.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: RIAN JOHNSON
STARS: JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT, BRUCE WILLIS, EMILY BLUNT, PAUL DANO, NOAH SEGAN, PIPER PERABO, JEFF DANIELS, GARRET DILLAHUNT
RUNTIME: 118 MINS APPROX