Looper’s been called many things – “outstanding!” “mind-blowing!” “the kids will love it!” (well, some of those things anyway) – and while nowhere as indie as writer/director Rian Johnson’s first film, Brick (which everybody should watch), Looper is, at the very least, testament to what you can do with a much smaller budget than most Hollywood blockbusters. While it did only half as well in its opening week in the US as the animated movie Hotel Transylvania (directed by creator of Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Lab and series director of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Genndy Tartakovsky) and thus possibly implying that a big budget still helps, the general word is that Looper is good – but is that really so, and by how much?
For all its wibbly wobbly timey wimey dressing, Looper is a time travel movie that works – none of that horrible Nicholas Cage style badness is here. And even then, Looper at its heart is a character piece – a study of how motivations clash from the Joes’ to Sara’s – and they do clash. JGL’s Joe knows that if he doesn’t kill his future self the crime-boss (Abe) will kill them both, but Joe knows that to save his future he’s got to make sure his younger self doesn’t do it. I’ll try not to describe too much, but suffice to say everybody has motivations, and thus at no point is there a true hero of the tale – everybody’s trying to be a hero for some perfectly good reason mostly relating to self-preservation.
Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL) and Bruce Willis as Joe, and Emily Blunt as Sara, and is a time-travel tale where “Loopers” are people sent from the future (2072) to 2044, where they help crime syndicates get rid of people – just like mobsters with concrete shoes. Time travel’s been outlawed in the future, and only the big criminal syndicates have access to it. Joe’s one of the Loopers, and finally at the end of their careers they kill their future self – it’s called “closing the loop” – and they get a huge payday where they get to retire in peace and stuff, knowing they have about 30 years left to enjoy loads of money. Thing is, since you never know who you’re killing since they’re hooded, the only time you know when you’ve “closed the loop” is when the payday is much bigger than usual, by when it’s too late if you have any regrets. And that’s as much about the movie that you need to know – if the trailer didn’t already tell you that. The problem in all this? Joe has to kill Old Joe one day, and Old Joe really doesn’t want to die so easily.
Performance wise the cast manages awesome performances all round. Emily Blunt disappears into her extremely gritty performance as Sara, and Bruce Willis does the jaded yet driven man-with-a-cause the way only he knows how. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, prosthetics and all, channels Bruce Willis, nuance and all … And yet he doesn’t. In a time where we see method actors take on entire personalities this becomes – from something some might see as flawed – something ingenious. After all, people change over time, and the 30 years difference means JGL’s Joe and Bruce Willis’ Joe are different people, the former younger, more cocksure – more JGL. It’s this imperfection in channeling Bruce Willis that makes JGL’s performance all the more astounding – especially when it feels that that’s exactly what he’s going for. It’s a pity, then that the nature of identity isn’t more explored. And watch out for that kid Pierce Gagnon – what an amazing performance from such a young talent.
Just like how well JGL worked as a young Bruce Willis is in general what works for Looper – it’s how good it is in the ways you don’t expect it to be. This isn’t a high-end set meal by a Michelin-starred chef who’s using the latest in molecular gastronomy to astound your taste buds in small, exact portions with each dish served with a flourish, nor is this a Michael-Bay-esque chocolate buffet that just overwhelms so that it makes a good thing bad. This is the restaurant that serves you a simple meal – ratatouille perhaps – prepared in such a way that seems obvious but just has the chef’s secret ingredient that not only reminds you why you like that dish so much, but also tells you all those variants of that dish you’ve had so far? They were charlatans – this is the real deal. This is the meal that improves which each spoonful, and when you’re done, you sit back and go quietly, “wow, I didn’t expect it to be that good.”
Yet, that almost works against it too – and if you go in with preconceptions you might just end up being disappointed. From start to end Looper seems to follow genre conventions while actually skirting or subverting them – and if you were someone who’s used to seeing tropes all line up in a row and happen in a genre movie, you’d be disappointed – at times it can be almost disconcerting when something you expect doesn’t happen. That’s not to say the tropes don’t entirely happen, but that they just aren’t a big deal. That, in a genre film, is a huge thing.
So yes, Looper is a time travel movie that’s very respectful of the science-fiction conventions that have gone before it – but don’t expect a conventional science fiction movie that does a join-the-dots style of movie making. There’s been mention that Looper might be “the Matrix of our time” – well, it’s not. It’s not about the nature of reality, or even the nature of time travel – it establishes the rules, explains it and then moves right on to the plot and characters instead of worrying about loopholes (of which, if there are any, do not matter). It’s not a perfect movie – 2 moments within the film left me a little puzzled (but not in terms of science-fiction shenanigans), but still Looper is a fantastic science-fiction film upon which the story, the emotions, uses the genre as a great, firm base and not a crutch, and that’s why it’s just so good.
Looper opens in Singapore Oct 11.
(Btw, the kids won’t love it, since it’s like violent and nudity and NC16.)