Sunday 30 September 2012

Film Review: Looper

Gordon-Levitt and Willis get down to business

The sci-fiction genre has taken something of a battering in recent times; whilst films like Source Code, Inception and Moon have injected some degree of success and acclaim, others have lowered expectations and standards; think Battle: Los Angeles, Transformers and Battleship

Along then, comes Looper, a new science-fiction film from director Rian Johnson, looking to reboot the genre with a winning combination of intelligence, action and thought. And boy, does it deliver.

Set in 2042, Looper centres on a simple premise, that both works well and is delivered succinctly and simply. In the year 2072, Time travel is invented, and is quickly made illegal. When powerful mob groups want to dispose of someone from their present, they travel the victim back 30 years where a hired gun (or a "Looper") awaits, killing them instantly and burning the body, thus erasing the victim entirely.
Yippee-ki-yay: Bruce Willis in Looper

If I didn't explain that very well, that's okay. Director and writer Rian Johnson does a much better job; what Looper does well is take a fairly intricate and complex set of ideas (time travel, paradoxes and so on) and set them out plain and simple. Take this on board, and you'll 'get' the film. Over-think it, and you'll enjoy Looper a lot less.

Time travel is a tricky thing to get right on film and Looper does it's best to simplify and streamline it. The initial voice-overs that explain the premise add relevance and gravity to the setting in a great way. Accept it, and it'll be a lot easier to get along with Looper. I won't go into too many details on the film's plot given the different aspects and sometimes twists that the narrative throw's up; like before, this film is best seen without any preconceptions or spoilers.

For anyone who is familiar with the premise of the film, rest assured, there are multiple layers in this movie that aren't immediately obvious from watching some of the promotional material. Again, I won't go into the different layers and plot ideas here; half the fun is uncovering the story for yourself, trying to think ahead, see where it is going, having yourself proved wrong and second-guessing it. Ultimately, like any classic science-fiction film should, Looper keeps you on the edge of your seat and continually guessing until the very end.

Another major plus point in Looper's favour is its stellar cast. Hot off the heels of The Dark Knight Rises, Joseph Gordon-Levitt puts in a brilliant performance as Joe, a Looper. A flawed and essentially uncaring hitman/junkie, Gordon-Levitt's character is unlike any other he has played before and he pulls it off well. Likewise, the older version of Joe played by Bruce Willis is acted brilliantly.

Despite essentially being the same person, they are apposite characters, with the separate versions of Joe carrying different ideas, motives, values and backgrounds. It is important to note that Johnson gives both versions of Joe the back-story and establishment that they deserve, leaving the audience unsure of where/who to side with as the plot progresses. Despite their differences however, it is easily bought that Gordon-Levitt is a younger version of Willis, the former's acting complementing the latter's distinctive manner and intricacies well.

Emily Blunt is also impressive as the gun-wielding, protective Sara. Like many of the characters here, Sara is ultimately a tortured and flawed character; her poor past decisions lead her life to intertwine with that of Joe and his struggle to keep a handle on the intricacies of meeting ones future self. Again, not going into it too much as to preserve the various twists the film takes. Another point I would make is the direction in some of the mind-bending action scenes. Not unlike Inception, the sometimes anti-gravity defying camerawork and effects are thrilling.

One criticism I would make was the pacing; the film's middle-quarter began to drag a little, younger Joe and Sara devoting a lot of time to sitting around in and around corn fields providing exposition relating to both's back-stories. This is punctuated however by tense and genuinely shocking twists that begin to move the film towards its stellar ending.

Again, like with other great science-fiction films, Looper does a fantastic job of providing an ending that is shocking, thrilling, tense and heart-breaking. It's clever how the film constructs each and every character with both positives and negatives; they each are flawed, making it harder to pick a side and thus, an ending.

Intelligently written, brilliantly shot and emotionally investing, Looper is a contender for one of the best films this year, as well as one of the best and most inventive science-fiction films of all time, up there alongside Alien, Back to the Future, The Matrix and Inception. It successfully injects brilliance into a genre too often polluted by over-destructive and silly fluff. You don't want to miss it.

I give Looper: 9/10

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