Review: Looper

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano

Rating: ★★★★★
“I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” For me, this is the definitive line of dialogue in Looper. Uttered by Bruce Willis, who plays an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the line does a number of things. First, like a few other moments in the film, it provides some much needed comic relief in an otherwise grimly dystopian setting. It also helps to establish the world weary and battered character of old Joe, whose reluctance to address the subject makes him different from his past self. But most of all, the line sums up the film’s approach to time travel. By the end of the film, the viewer is left pondering eventualities and paradoxes; labour long enough on the plot, and inevitably, plot holes are going to emerge.

But why bother, protagonist Joe’s older self (Willis) asks in the soon-to-be iconic diner scene, consisting of a conversation between Joe’s past and future selves. Set in 2044, the film is about a group of criminal assassins called ‘loopers’ who execute targets sent back from the future, where disposing of bodies is nearly impossible. Successful looper Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is ready for retirement, until his final target turns out to be his future self, who pulls a fast one on young Joe and escapes.

The film smartly places the physical intricacies and endless questions of time travel aside in favour of exploring the more human theme of engaging with your past self. The older Joe seeks to right not only the past but at times himself; the thirty year gap that links the two characters is a path of corruption, self destruction and finally redemption, chronicled in one of the most striking and stylish montages in recent cinema history. This timeline, of course, is altered the moment Joe fails to murder himself, and the film goes on to show both young and old Joe on the run from the looper syndicate for breaking their most important law: “never let your target escape”. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent at playing a young Bruce Willis, and once you get past the at times awkward looking make-up effects used to make him look the part of a young Bruce, a fondly remembered cocky Willis from Die Hard or Pulp Fiction seems to come to life.

Buses around Glasgow currently advertise the film as “This decade’s The Matrix”, which is arguably true, but I found the film more reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s android thriller Blade Runner – a favourite of mine, sharing Looper‘s take on sci-fi in that it is less about robots and more about human truths – and 12 Monkeys, another film that sees Willis venture through the fourth dimension. The imagined universe too is quite Blade Runner-esque, massive in scope with plenty of neat gadgets, cool futuristic guns and sprawling metropolis cutaways.

A perfect mix of sci-fi action and intellect, Looper does what Total Recall and Dredd do in that it creates an endlessly stylish universe, satisfying sci-fi and action fans alike, but goes beyond this, in that at its core, it’s neither an action nor time travel story, but a thought-provoking film about one man and two characters with an emotional climax.

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