First off, as always, SPOILER WARNING! Although I usually don't discuss too many plot points, Looper is best watched fresh so if you are interested in watching this - just go watch it – I recommend it highly.
Still with us?
Ok, so misleading trailers (once again) convey Looper to be a sort of Total Recall or Minority Report-type futuristic action sci-fi film, when really it has more in common with more cerebral and philosophical films that concern time travel - such as Time Crimes or Triangle. Marketing hype’s billing of the film as ‘This decade’s The Matrix’ is not only misleading but feels sort of inappropriate – spiritually it has more in common with say, Donnie Darko or 12 Monkeys (another Bruce Willis time travel flick) and is certainly not as game-changing as The Matrix proved to be on its release back in 1999.
The true heart of it this film is really about human connection and less about the raw technicalities of time travel. Even within the film, Bruce Willis points out to his younger self that if they were to sit and discuss the ins and out of time travel they would just end up drawing diagrams on the tables; as well as mob boss Jeff Daniels openly admitting that “all this time travel crap, just fries your brain like an egg” – a pretty explicit instruction to the audience to not worry too much about the logic of it all and just enjoy the story.
And what it is that makes this story so good is not contained within the action scenes (as the trailers or indeed Matrix comparisons may have you believe) but the aforementioned theme of human connection – that is both the main focus of the plot (the making of the Rainmaker, being able/not able to kill your future self etc…) but also one that permeates nearly every aspect of the story and each character.
The small details that link into this theme are what helps make this film so rich and compelling: the 'Loopers' themselves being lost or abandoned young men, deprived of any sort of real human connection with anyone else - which explains why they have no qualms taking on the job and its ’30 year release clause’ or why they are so often prone to becoming drug addicts; how human connection can save a person or lack of it destroy someone; and so on – this film is rich with it – and you know I am a sucker for these kind of thematically layered and nuanced films.
Two things that most notably contribute to this film’s success; Firstly is writer/director Rian Johnson – most known for his high school noir film Brick (which also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He can direct story with ease – certain sequences in Looper convey a myriad of emotions and thematic textures so deftly – sometimes without even having a single word of dialogue being spoken. A standout example of this is the ‘30 years’ sequence – you will know it when you see it – as powerful as a similar sequence towards the beginning of Pixar’s Up. Even the small touches, such as Emily Blunt’s character smoking an imaginary cigarette, convey so much with so little.
The second piece of the puzzle is leading man (or rather the shared lead) of Joseph Gorden-Levitt. He had a good, yet admittedly straightforward, performance in the recent The Dark Knight Rises - but here, he is a revelation. Obviously there is the prosthetics and make-up to make him look like a young version of Bruce Willis, but the point of it is he becomes Bruce Willis. Mannerisms, speech and all. Bruce Willis is just… well, how Bruce Willis is in most films – there is no sense of the two meeting in the middle. It's a great performance by Gordon-Levitt. As such there is a distinct electricity when the two share the screen together – most noticeably in the diner scene – the 'ooooh shiiiit' feeling that is up there with that seminal scene in Michael Mann’s Heat.
However this is not a perfect film - it's a fairly long movie and yet some elements seem a bit rushed. Perhaps it would have been better suited to a short TV series? But then they wouldn't have gotten the budget or such wonderful actors. Swings and roundabouts I guess…
And I haven’t even got around to talking about that one amazing child actor giving off that Damien from The Omen vibe – chillingly effective.
You may have noticed the numerous references to other films throughout this write-up; it's because this film contains such a mash-up of styles and homages – and bizarrely it all works – much of it due to Johnson’s command of his material and the overarching theme of human connection that binds it all together. In lesser hands this could have been a vastly different affair – a clumsy, forgettable popcorn blockbuster action flick – but Looper certainly isn’t. It’s sci-fi with heart.
As such, Looper comes thoroughly recommended and is a contender for one of my favourite films of this year.
2 Oct 2012