In 2044, time travel hasn’t been invented, but thirty years hence it will be. A Looper is a syndicate hitman, hired in the past and charged with taking care of targets who are sent back in time to be dealt with and disposed of. It is agreed by a Looper that their contract will be terminated with them closing the loop, that is to say, killing their future self, to save on loose ends. When Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis), a junkie Looper with little to loose, is faced with a future self determined, for reasons of his own, to stay alive, all hell breaks loose.
Writer/director, Rian Johnston, made his name in 2005 with his independent debut, Brick. It was a deserved indie darling that set a hard-boiled noir storyline against a high school backdrop, doing for Raymond Chandler what Clueless did for Jane Austen and supplying Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a career path beyond TV sitcoms and twee teen films. His second feature, Brothers Bloom, had a more famous cast and a fun, romantic, caper based storyline but was seen by practically no one.
The two films are very different but what they do have in common is a tendency toward imaginative world building and unpredictable plots. Brick and Brothers Bloom can’t be said to be based in worlds that are realistic, but despite their massive stylisations toward their intended genres, manage to stay grounded; a trend Johnston has carried across, yet again, to his latest mind-twisting sci-fi outing, Looper.
The future of Looper isn’t that of our own reality, but rather that of a Chandler-esque world of crime noir, where mobile phones were never invented, classic cars drive side by side with hover bikes, the cities have a cyber-punk skyline while farmers still toil in their cane fields with aged equipment. It’s a fantastically developed setting to be sure, and one that, while familiar, puts us slightly on the back foot and ready for a story that is as unpredictable as any you are likely to see this year.
Indeed, you will be SO at a lose to where the film is inevitably headed that you could be forgiven for assuming it is a remake of a South Korean film, the forerunners in unpredictable plottage. Johnston’s smartness lies in never letting the story stay as one thing; just as you think you’re getting a handle on the plot, it turns out to be about something else entirely, which though for some viewers may be uncomfortable, and at times, slightly confusing, makes for a cinema experience of real intrigue.
Being a time-travel story, Looper sets out its rules, which lean more toward the Back to the Future ‘the future’s changeable’ ethos, but brings some original ideas to the table while not getting too bogged down with details so as to over think itself.
Originality is the name of the game, because, though the film proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, which come from sources as divers as James Ellroy, Timecop and Akira, the overall sense while viewing is that we’re watching something new, and something that will perhaps soon be seen as a genre classic.
All this would be for nothing though if the actors couldn’t sell the reality and plot setup, but from scene one it turns out not to be something we need worry about. A lot has been made in the press about Levitt and Willis portraying the same character, and the effects work (one assumes a combination of prosthetics and digital) gone in to making the former look like the latter. It’s pleasing to see the results are successful, they genuinely sell, but over this it’s Levitt’s performance that should really be admired. Willis does his usual Willis this, the heavy acting being lumped onto Levitt’s narrow shoulders, but he seems to revel in it, not exactly doing an impersonation, but channelling style and mannerisms that subconsciously evoke a young Willis.
The rest of the cast do a bang up job too, Emily Blunt particularly, along with a very witty and intimidating Jeff Daniels, who, coming fresh from his excellent turn in HBO’s The Newsroom, seems to be hitting a new career high.
Visually it doesn’t aim to be too spectacular, aesthetically owing as much to its noir influences as the odd flecks of Bladerunner and Twelve Monkeys that permeate the otherwise grounded environment, so not coming off as dizzyingly ‘futuristic’ as other sci-fi blockbusters this year, but servicing the story to the correct degree.
It may not be the type of film you desire to watch over and over again, but Looper is an entertaining, intriguing and undoubtedly original film that has the potential to be a classic of both sci-fi and film noir. Miss it at your peril.
A grade – for originality
A- grade – for storytelling
A- grade – for acting
B grade – for visuals
Overall grade – A-
Looper is released in the US and UK from September 28th.