Ignore the trailers. Well most of them anyway, aside from the premise and setting they have the unfortunate habit of showing Looper to be some extensive action. The few moments of outright violence in the film are brilliantly done but it takes the same approach to fights as Quentin Tarantino does: As little as possible but excellently delivered. With that understood, this is not only the greatest science fiction movie of 2012 but one of the best of the last decade.
The story itself takes some time to get going with much of the first and second act spent building up the world around the protagonist. It’s a deeply pessimistic dystopia which seems to be an exaggeration of our future and current fears. The core-most of these is the dominance of crime throughout the world, shown through the everyday life of Joe Simmons who, in order to fuel his high life of excess, has a job as a looper. A hired executioner employed to kill and dispose of those who cross various criminal cartels thirty years into the future, after time travel is created. However, something goes wrong when Simmons encounters his future self sent back to him, who promptly breaks free and disappears, causing his employers to turn against him. And that is when things really start to get interesting…
The biggest strength of Looper is that it has an extremely talented production crew and the writing talents of Rian Johnson, which are taken full advantage of both in building-up the world. Almost every aspect of every scene is shown to somehow disturb or inform the audience of how truly screwed-up the planet is. These range from minor background elements such as contemporary cars having been converted to run on solar powered panels to the sharp contrasts between the destitute and rich districts of the city. Even when it comes to the characters this is almost continuously present with the most reasonable and controlled force in the entire film shown to be the ruthless mobsters Simmons works for. Best of all is how these are frequently integrated into the story. With things like the gruesome use of mutilation and a past self to control rogue loopers being called back to as a device to build tension later in the film and establish how flexible the rules of time travel are in this world.
The script manages to involve these, expand upon a world to degree rarely seen within many films. Yet at the same time it remains extremely tightly written and contains characters which, while not greatly deep or outstandingly complex, are well rounded and presented in a light which makes them feel extremely human. What definitely helps the most with this is the calibre of actors present and, again, Rian Johnson. While having only a few films to his name Johnson has frequently displayed significant skills when it comes to writing dialogue and character motivations, just see Brick to witness this in action, and he has definitely put his A-game into this. The short montage used to show how the older Simmons changed and his motivations for what he is doing last mere minutes, show decades of his life in seconds. Yet these are so well crafted that you feel more for the character in this time than you would protagonists in the entire run-times of lesser films.
While the dialogue and writing are both very strong, their high quality is only amplified by the actors who take centre stage in this. The marketing campaign for the film focused heavily upon its two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis who play the younger and older incarnations of Simmons respectively, and with good reason. Aside from their star power both bring their accomplished talents to the screen with one of the film’s greatest scenes simply being them sitting and talking. Even without taking into account Gordon-Levitt’s facial editing to make him look more like Willis, the two deliver performances which clearly enforce the idea that they are the same person but at different points in their lives. There’s effectively no time when you’re not thinking of them as their characters. Beyond them however the other roles are played by similarly talented individuals in minor and major roles. Notably Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels, the former of who showed great skill in developing what was initially presented to be a very one dimensional character and the latter who serves as the face of the criminal forces in Looper’s world. Also quite possibly the greatest child actor I’ve ever seen.
While everything from the initial script to the cinematography to the acting makes this a great, very well defined, film it’s not without its flaws. While it remains strong throughout, the last half an hour has a number of very glaring problems in its story as if someone else had to finish the tale for Johnson. The most obvious of these comes in the last five minutes where a time paradox comes into effect which, even taking into account the very flexible laws of time travel established in Looper, would have cancelled out everything. What’s more is that a very big plot point, one of the driving forces behind the whole film is never explained. Detailed yes, talked about as well and very well presented but the film never goes into how it occurred. Honestly though, these two flaws aren’t so big you’ll see them when watching the film. Directly after perhaps but its level of presentation, quality of acting and attention to minor details helps keep it enjoyable even after this point.
While the film ends on a relatively weak note in comparison to how it started, there’s still no denying that it’s well worth seeing. The quality of the story and the direction it takes is something we’ve not seen since Inception. It is so well made you could give it to a film tutor and use Looper on its own to give lectures about storytelling and structure. If you can’t see it in the cinema, definitely buy this one on DVD.
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