Brick director Rian Johnson’s new feature is a time-bending, brain-blending thriller that benefits greatly from some unusual flourishes.
With a strong leading cast and great supporting turns from Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano, Looper stands out as one of the year’s smartest, slickest, most WTF-inducing sci-fi films.
The year is 2044 and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a “looper”, an assassin tasked with killing targets who have been sent back in time by future mobsters. Following Joe’s failure to “close his loop” – in other words, kill his future self (Bruce Willis) – Joe finds himself on the run from his employer, the laconic Abe (Jeff Daniels), and his hired guns.
Keen to track down his older self, Joe soon finds himself taking refuge – and in the process helping to protect – single mother Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young son.
To say much more would be giving the game away. Because the real beauty of Johnson’s film lies in the zigzagging nature of the plot, constantly sending you in one direction and yanking you back before you can catch your breath. And yet, Johnson ensures you never feel completely lost.
Immaculately worked out from the word go, Looper is built on characters who are believably invested in their individual paths: young Joe wants to kill his older self and break his ties to the mob, old Joe is seeking a way to get back to his wife, lastly Sara wants to protect her son at all costs. It is because we believe all three as characters that we believe in the film.
What’s more, this is a world in which the knowns are clearly delineated, helping to anchor us in a tangible realm when other aspects threaten to pull us away. Because in terms of the cinematography, Johnson takes every advantage to give us camera angles that disturb and reposition our perspective. The result is that we feel, just like the characters, as though we are constantly losing our footing.
There are also a number of red herrings thrown into the mix as we move along, meaning you’re never quite sure where the action is leading until the final moments. And while Johnson is careful to tie up the loose ends, you can’t help but feel a little cheated by the end result. That’s largely indicative, though, of a film in which – because there are so many possible outcomes bursting into life at any moment – it’s a little disappointing when you don’t see all of them come to fruition.
Ultimately, where Johnson’s film really shines is in the touches of quirk, which help to bring to life moments of flat exposition. Subtle moments of physical comedy, the nicely drawn “relationship” between the old and young Joes, and – most impressive – the performance of Pierce Gagnon as Sara’s son Cid, keep Looper fresh and inventive where it could fall into the clichés.
With its relatively small scale and restrained denouement, Looper is no sci-fi epic on the scale of The Matrix or even Twelve Monkeys. But its smart, twisty, well worked out plot makes it an unusual take on the familiar time travel format.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 28th September 2012 by Entertainment One UK.
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