At some point in most time travel movies, the characters will stop to discuss the mechanics of time travel and throw around terms like ‘time-space continuum’ and ‘temporal anomalies’. In one of Looper’s central scenes, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) starts asking his older self (Bruce Willis) about time travel only to have that line of conversation shut down: “we’ll be sitting here all day making diagrams with straws.” But the actual nature of time travel in Looper is deceptively simple and terrifically original.
As explained by Joe’s opening narration, time travel has been invented in the future and quickly outlawed by a government fearful of the possibilities. In the year 2074, the few remaining time machines are controlled by gangsters who use them to secretly dispose of bodies. The marks are hooded and sent back in time to 2044 where they’re met by ‘loopers’, assassins paid with silver bars strapped to the back of the victims. Joe is one such killer, whose light workload and sizable compensation has led to a hedonistic lifestyle complete with snazzy ‘retro’ clothes, flash cars, drugs and hookers.
This job, however, comes with one major caveat: when the bosses want to close a looper’s contract, they’ll send his older self back to be killed without warning. It’s something they call ‘closing the loop’. But when Willis’ old Joe arrives without a bag on his head, young Joe hesitates momentarily, allowing himself time to escape. Are you still with us? Honestly, it’s a lot simpler when you see it on screen. Willis looks to be on a mission to change some event in the future, while Gordon-Levitt has to now find a way to kill his older self before his employers catch up with him.
There’s been a lot of chat about the facial prosthetic used to make Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis. On one hand, we know what a young Bruce Willis looks like: we’ve all seen Moonlighting! The make-up artists have reshaped his nose, chin and eyebrows and the final effect is rather jarring. But after about fifteen minutes, you really start to forget about the make-up. Through his performance, Gordon-Levitt manages to bring the same sense of weariness and wry humour that defines the standard Bruce Willis character. It’s been a hell of a year for you if you’re name is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s had three movies come out in as many months with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic still to come this winter. With the diversity of roles he’s taken over the last few years, he’s managed to morph himself from a sitcom child actor into a proper grown up film star in tremendous style.
Writer-director Rian Johnson, who made his name with the high school indie-noir Brick once again shows his talent for infusing scripts with small details and character choices that really colour his world: Garret Dillahunt turns up at one point as a mob enforcer who we sense might actually be a nice guy; Jeff Daniels plays a despairing mob lieutenant from the future who’s been sent back to run the whole programme but would rather be doing anything else. Every little character seems to subvert expectations slightly and as a result, the people and the world of Looper feel properly fleshed out.
But (as it should be), the central conflict between the two Joes proves to be the central point of the film. They don’t share a significant amount of screen time, but they do play a complex game of cat and mouse, even as the younger Joe starts to have something of an ethical awakening. When faced with it, can he really bring himself to kill someone that he knows intimately (himself)?
But just when you might expect the film to ramp up to another level in the film’s final stretch, Johnson actually ramps things down. Instead of having increasingly furious sequences of the Joes chasing each other though Science Fiction city, the film’s pace slows down when Gordon-Levitt arrives on a farm run by comely single mother Emily Blunt. To tell you any more would be to walk firmly into spoiler territory, but let us say that it’s refreshing to see character valued over action and story over plot. Johnson is one of those film makers that always make such interesting choices. His films are rarely ever predictable on a moment-to-moment basis.
Now, the hype that seems to be surrounding this film is that it’s a mind-blowing five-star film, which it’s not. It’s very good, mind you, but if you go in expecting it to be the new Inception, then you will be disappointed. It’s not a big budget blockbuster; it’s a tight film with some pretty big ideas. See it with some tempered expectations and you’ll be delighted by its bold narrative, sharp wit and boundless invention.
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