Today: April 15, 2024


As precision-tooled

As precision-tooled and
tightly-wound as a Swiss watch
, writer/director Rian Johnson’s stunning sci-fi thriller Looper may already be 2012’s film of the year, its complex,
dazzling premise so full of ideas and heart that even the prodigiously
litigious and carnaptious Harlan Ellison hasn’t gotten around to suing it
yet. It’s a spectacular
thrill-ride as interested in its moral and philosophical dilemmas as it is in
its violent, high-octane action scenes.

60 years from now time travel has been both invented and outlawed with
only criminals using it. In the
future when the Mob wants you dead, it doesn’t kill you; it hog-ties you, hoods
you, pops you in a time machine and zaps you 30 years into the past where a
specialised assassin – a “looper” – waits to blow you out of your socks and
dispose of your body. Life is
sweet if you’re a looper. You’re
well-paid, stylish, you live the high life; the best clubs, the best drugs, the
best women. The only rule is you
never let a target escape.
Especially if that target is your future self – an act of delayed
suicide known as “closing the loop.”

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is
one of the best loopers in the business.
Smooth, confident, efficient and callous, he’s smarter than the average
looper. He’s been saving his
money, learning French, has plans to retire, to get out of the business, to
travel. But Joe’s well-ordered
life spins out of control when his next victim arrives; Joe’s future,
fifty-something self (Bruce Willis). Escaping from his younger self, old Joe
isn’t going out without a fight and is intent on changing his fate. He’s going to save the future, his
future, by killing the Rainmaker, the future’s Keyser Soze, the gangster who
runs the world and has marked old Joe for death. And in this time-stream, the Rainmaker is still just a
defenceless child.

With his only clues to the Rainmaker’s identity a date of birth and the
hospital the child was born in, older Joe sets out, Terminator-style, to track down and murder every child born on that
day, while younger Joe is determined to kill his older counterpart and close
his loop. Pursued by mentor and
boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) and his army
of heavily armed “gat” men, young Joe is forced to take refuge with tough
single-mom Sara (Emily Blunt),
becoming reluctant protector to her odd and gifted young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) at their remote
farmhouse. It’s only a matter of
time however before older Joe works his way down his list to Sara and Cid
though forcing the two Joes onto a collision course…

A big, bold, intelligent, ambitious piece of science fiction with a
strong, believable, emotional core, Looper
is quite simply stunning. The
world Johnson builds is utterly convincing. Sure there’s a heavy steampunk influence in the guns,
hoverbikes and time machines, the 21st century’s hit men dress like
the James gang and the future’s drugs are dripped into your eye but Looper’s crumbling metropolis with its
derelict buildings, burnt out cars and squatter camps is merely an extrapolation
of the urban decay around us, where 30 years of economic decline could
logically take us. And the people
are no different either; mostly working joes just trying to get by. Admittedly, by murdering people from
the future.

Equal parts existential puzzle, kick-ass action flick and melancholic
love story, it’s an intimate epic that keeps you nailed to your seat. The future that Willis’ older, wiser,
world-weary Joe is trying to save isn’t the world’s; it’s merely his own
world. He’s come back from the
future to save his murdered wife, collateral damage to his own botched
assassination. He reasons that if
the man who wants him dead never exists, then the woman he loves won’t be
murdered and he’s prepared to go to any lengths, including murdering kids, to
save her. Gordon-Levitt meanwhile
isn’t interested in the potential paradoxes thrown up by his future self’s
survival; his Joe is a heartless, selfish
hustler, living for the moment, for the thrill. He just wants his life back. It’s time for Willis’ old man to step
aside and let youth have its day.
During a coffee shop détente that echoes Michael Mann’s Heat, old
and young Joe confront each other over coffee, steak and eggs, Gordon-Levitt
demanding: “Why don’t you do what old men
do and die?” Yet it’s old
Joe’s refusal to accept the hand fate’s dealt him that sends young Joe to Sara
and Cid, rekindling the spark of humanity in him.

The performances are excellent
with Willis’ superannuated, smirk-free, hard man the best thing he’s done in
years while Emily Blunt is strong and solid as the woman who could mean Joe’s
redemption but is far from just an obligatory love interest, their growing
attraction and romance wisely kept to a simmer. As Abe, the irascible gangster the mob has sent back in time
to recruit and run the loopers, Jeff Daniels is a likeably, genial
monster. In one of the film’s more
unsettling scenes, the offscreen torture he dishes out to Paul Dano’s sympathetic but doomed looper Seth (who’s allowed his
future self to run) has horrific consequences for Seth’s older version who
literally starts to fade away before your eyes, a grim foreshadowing of the
fate that awaits Joe if he can’t close his loop. Looper belongs to
Joseph Gordon-Levitt though. With
contacts tinting his eyes, the magic of cinema (prosthetics and CGI) altering
his features and adopting Willis’ mannerisms (the swagger, the insouciant
smirk, the hairline), he effortlessly conveys the charismatic Willis of the
late ‘80s without ever simply impersonating him. It’s a subtle, nuanced performance that even makes you
forget the prosthetic schnozz he’s sporting.

With its delicate balance of grand concept and breathless action perhaps
the boldest thing about Looper is it
has the courage to close its own loop, delivering an intricate and satisfying
resolution without ever spoon-feeding or patronising its audience. Intelligent and thrilling with an
emotional and philosophical punch, Looper
is a film we’ll still be watching in 30 years.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email:

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