Movie Review: Looper

As ever I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers but its probably best if you go in knowing as little about the movie as possible.

Comparisons with The Matrix. Glowing reviews. A badass trailer. The fact Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t really look like Bruce Willis.

Going into Looper I had some baggage, but it blew them all away, around the same time it blew my mind.

The premise of the flick is that in the 2070s time travel has been mastered and is used by the criminal part of society to get rid of pesky problems, providing an evidence-free way of bumping people off. So their victims get zapped back to 2044 where they’re blown away by assassins called loopers, like Joe (Gordon-Levitt).

Being a looper seems a sweet gig, they live large, partying it up and making good money, and the kills are frighteningly easy- their victims arrive bound, gagged and with heads covered and all they have to do is pull the trigger on their scatter guns. The one downside is that each looper must eventually “close the loop”, by killing their own future self, ensuring things remain tidy and there are no loose ends.

When having killed their future selves they are given a big pay day and retired, left to enjoy the next 30 years of their lives. Joe’s colleagues are closing their loops with alarming frequency and that’s the better way of proceeding, allowing your future self to leg it is not a good move, and has grim consequences.

Joe one day comes face to face with the older version of himself (Willis) who isn’t tied up and who escapes. Old Joe has enjoyed his 30 years and wants to preserve what he cares about, planning to eliminate the shadowy figure known as the Rain Maker before they can come to power and eliminate the loopers. Joe wants to bring in his older self and get his life back, while the older version is on a mission and the mob is after both of them.

Joe winds up at the home of Sara (Emily Blunt) a feisty farmer, who’s connected to Old Joe’s plan and it appears the two are headed for a showdown. But as his escape and flight changes things is old Joe at risk of losing the future he’s so determined to protect? And how far is he willing to go?

This movie is hands down the best flick I’ve seen this year. I didn’t think anything could unseat The Avengers at the top spot, but this totally blew me away and relegated Iron Man and co. to the silver medal spot. I can not overstate how impressed I was with it, and I walked away completely stunned with it, the last time a film had this kind of effect on me was when I emerged, trembling from seeing Buried.

We’ve seen time travel flicks before, but this is one of the best, up there with Willis’ own Twelve Monkeys for mind bending awesomeness. Its wonderfully realized and thought out, with some really nice touches, for example the way that the injuries sustained by a younger self will instantly change the future version, allowing Joe to communicate with Old Joe by carving a message into his own flesh.

There’s also an acceptance by the characters of how messed up things can get, one character describes how the time travel stuff can “fry your brain”, and this is particularly evident in the way that the alterations to the timeline effect the memories of the older Joe, with things becoming “fuzzy” and less clear as the likelihood of them happening. It turns out that the major danger to his future happiness might be his own actions.

Since coming out of the cinema I’ve been thinking over on it quite a bit and debating with a friend about what the film’s conclusion would do to the fictional timeline, its a wonderfully intelligent, thrilling science fiction flick.

A large part of this is down to the two phenomenal lead performances as the two different versions of Joe. They might not look that similar normally, but there’s some really subtle prosthesis work which fills out Gordon-Levitt’s jaw line and makes him more Willis-esque, but the largest contribution is from the performance. JGL has clearly done his homework and during one scene in particular where he talks to his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), where he’s got Willis mannerisms and line delivery completely down, flashing the easy going Willis smirk and talking with the same sardonic tone. There’s also a nice touch where he notices his receding hairline in the mirror.

But its not merely an impression, as JGL is a superb actor and this adds a growing list of phenomenal performances and is one of the best actors of his generation.

Superb- Gordon-Levitt as Young Joe

Young Joe is a bit of a mess, a drug addicted, damaged and self centred killer who’s capable of cold blooded detachment but is slightly out of his depth, whereas old Joe is a total badass. After he escapes the film cuts back to the first time he faced his future self and did the deed, showing how he spent the next 30 years, transforming into a highly skilled killer and also the life he built for himself.

At the start he seems the nobler of the two, but quickly morphs into an antiheroic figure. Its a brave role for Willis to play as along the way he does some truly shocking deeds, and his criticism of his younger self as being self absorbed could easily be leveled at his own actions and willingness to cross lines to fight for what’s his.

Anti-hero- Willis as Old Joe.

Despite being the same person you quickly wind up rooting for one over the other, but both actors should be commended for always ensuring that Joe is a sympathetic character despite his flaws.

The supporting cast are on fine form, especially a strong, confident turn from Blunt as the tough cookie that young Joe winds up spending time with. Its a perfect balance of strength and frailty, she’s not a caricature of some badass chick or an over confident girl who eventually needs saving, just someone who’s had to toughen up to survive and like the male hero(es?) is willing to go to great lengths to protect what’s hers. Blunt is perfect in the role, convincing and utterly engaging from her very first appearance.

Perfect- Blunt

The shady character of the Rain Maker is handled quite well, even if its easy to see what’s coming, but its nice how the rumours that old Joe says about them slowly become reality as events unfold and also links with the whole idea of whether we’re fated to turn out a certain way or if we’re masters of our own destiny.  And the hints are dropped fairly subtly throughout to build up to the big reveal.

Another character I liked was the swaggering, wannabe cowboy hit man Kid Blue (Noah Sagan). He provides some of the film’s lighter moments and is a pitiable character, attempting to appear as a dangerous bad-man but hampered by his own bumbling stupidity and eagerness to please.

Jeff Daniels is engaging and charming as Abe, the low level mobster sent back to oversee the loopers who’s taken over the city, playing off his usual fatherly, nice guy vibe to reveal a hard, ruthless edge beneath who convinces as someone who could recruit followers.

His character’s relationship with Joe and Kid Blue is one of the film’s most interesting touches, there are repeated references to Joe of how he “put a gun in his hand” and gave him something that was his, and Kid Blue just craves his approval. Its an interesting reflection of how easily lost young men can be exploited to do terrible things. Abe has a knack for spying their vulnerability and uses this to get them aboard, promising them wealth and success. Its something we can see in the real world- the way gangs draw on the disenfranchised, financially poor young men from broken homes by providing a surrogate family and the promise of status and riches. Or the way the army will set up recruiting posts in dead end towns, or how child soldiers are lured into a life of violence so that they can stop being victims and possess some power.

Writer and director Rian Johnson, who made the weirdly engaging teen noir Brick knocks it out of the park here. The film’s pacing and tone is handled well, with the mind warping time travel stuff never stopping it from working on an emotional level too and there’s an undercurrent of brilliantly dark, brutal humour. Definitely one to watch, Johnson seems to be able to do the Christopher Nolan trick of making thoroughly entertaining and clever movies that don’t talk down to their audience.

Verdict: A thoroughly entertaining, intelligent sci-fi action flick featuring great performances. There are number of great touches and moments throughout and some shocking “Holy s**t!” moments. An instant classic. See it first chance you get. 10/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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