26 September 2012

LOOPER- Review

Off the back of last week's sorely underappreciated Premium Rush, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's latest, Looper, arrives with much more fanfare. Whether the wide release, or the participation of Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, undoes its indie cred to some extent, it remains that Rian Johnson's film is getting the bump it deserves in cinemas, as an American science-fiction film with a mid-range budget and tonnes of imagination.

In the latter half of the 21st century, it has become all but impossible to dispose of bodies, and so, using illegal time travel technology, the mobs send their hits back in time, to the mid-2000s, for disposal. Loopers are the personnel in charge of this disposal, contracted on the condition that their loop will be closed when their own future self is sent back for assassination. One Looper, Joe, comes face to face with himself, from 30 years in the future, and fails to finish the job. The older Joe has some other ideas about how the last three decades should pan out, while his present day counterpart runs for his life.

That's about as much of the plot as I'm willing to spill, because Looper should come as a surprise, and others have divulged far more than they should have. For one thing, if you haven't read anything about Emily Blunt's character yet, then don't. This is a film that gives you the credit to figure some things out for yourself, while the marketing and some of the critics are giving you enough to do that before you even see the film. Even if parts of the film are a mite predictable, the biggest surprise is in how solidly it explores a facet of sci-fi that would seem to have been exhausted in this medium.

Even the title of the film has multiple possible meanings, once you've finished watching it, but most impressive of all is the way in which the film portrays time travel as an essentially selfish pursuit. You can read that from most films- even Marty McFly, who initially travels by accident, finds a way to turn history to his advantage- but few of them put it out there, front and centre, as this film does. Even the concept of going back in time and killing Hitler, a quandary which is an essential tenet of this film, is driven selfishly, either as a revenge fantasy for those affected by the atrocities that he committed, or as an ego trip for someone who feels they can make history that little bit better.

As that's not the only type of selfishness that the film brings into play, the theme is soundly explored all the way through, and it resonates in such a way that makes Looper feel brand new. It also finds new ways to represent any of the ideas it has borrowed from other time travel films, particularly The Terminator, in bold and striking fashion. However notoriously demanding he may be, Bruce Willis does not have an easy role to play, as older Joe, and neither is the film built around him. You might have thought otherwise, given how Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face has been prosthetically augmented to make him look like Willis, while Willis is outwardly similar to his usual character type, but between this and the very different Moonrise Kingdom, he's doing his best work in years.

Still, Willis isn't around for as much of the film as you'd think, and Gordon-Levitt remains the star. Even though I got used to the make-up designed to make him look more like Willis, before I even saw the film, I'd struggle to argue that it does make him look like that. It kind of makes him look like a weirder Joseph Gordon-Levitt, frankly, but it's the performance. to say nothing of an ingenious montage early on, that connects the two Joes. It's only because it's such a different role for Willis that the film gets away with having the younger actor do most of the work, and as big a part of that is in Johnson's script, as it is in Gordon-Levitt's performance.

We're authoritatively told by older Joe that "time travel shit" doesn't matter, to keep our concentration on the story, but Johnson has still thoroughly thought out this future. It all hangs together in retrospect, and the audience isn't asked to swallow anything more difficult than the arrangement by which Loopers dispose of themselves, which actually informs the kind of character who goes into that line of work anyway. They live large, for the short term, doing a dirty, but rewarding job- in short, they're selfish. The way that many of the characters are acting and reacting selfishly, out of fear of either the past or the future, is perfectly threaded through the script in a way that is essential to all of the characters involved.

Although it's the themes of Looper that got me really excited, there is much to recommend it. The cast all give excellent performances, and given how I can't talk about her character, I should at least say that Emily Blunt is as magnetic and brilliant as usual. The make up effects are entirely functional, but the rest of the visual effects are impressive in how little they distract from the tightly wound plot. It's easy to imagine this turning out like In Time, or some other sci-fi film that suffered from studio interference and focus grouping, but its triumph is that it turned out so dark, and daring, and will still manage to find a big audience in cinemas.

Looper is released in cinemas nationwide on Friday.
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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