When Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis sit in a diner as the past and future versions of each other, it came as an enormous relief when Willis tells his younger self to ‘not talk about time travel.’ In that simple line, Looper assuaged many of my doubts about how it would execute its very impressive concepts. Instead of focusing on the logistics of how the rules of its world actually work (important, as it is impossible for any time-travel film logic to hold up under any kind of scrutiny), it allows itself to instead be a rip-roaring piece of action sci-fi cinema.
Looper’s universe is, oddly, set in two separate futures. There is a ‘present’ in 2044 and a future of this present in 2074, where disposal of a crime in nigh on impossible, so criminal organisations use the newly invented technology of time travel to send targets back to the ‘present’, to be disposed of by specialised assassins (armed with blunderbusses, slightly hilariously). However, at one point in their lives, a looper will be forced to kill their future self, signified by a stash of gold bars on the body. When the future self remains unkilled, is when trouble really starts.
This is the conundrum faced by Joe (Gordon-Levitt) when he lets his older self (Willis) escape and is chased down by his old, Jeff Daniels-led gang. Science fiction tropes aside, Looper’s plot is a rather conventional cat and mouse thriller, but no less exciting for this. Everything from the fire-fights to the chase sequences is expertly directed by Rian Johnson, and he manages to ratchet up the tension very successfully when a scene requires it. This all culminates in a stellar finale with one of the best, and most unexpected, endings of a year where satisfying conclusions have been hard to come by. The action is aided by fantastic effects, with the slightly dystopian future city of particular note, and a great script, which zips along at an excellent pace and manages to be genuinely funny in places, although the humour never disrupts the film’s rather serious atmosphere.
These lines are delivered by a rather effective cast. No-one really sticks in the memory, but no-one really detracts from the experience either, although JGL’s performance is slightly obscured by his slightly-too-noticeable prosthetics which, whilst making him look quite a lot like Bruce Willis, is very visible. On this topic, JGL does very well in his Willis impersonation, without feeling too much like a pastiche. Refreshingly, Willis doesn’t phone it in, as he has had a habit of doing recently and manages to channel a bit of John McClane alongside a far darker character, who is willing to commit some absolutely heinous crimes. There is also a pretty impressive début from Pierce Gagnon, a 7 year old who manages to be not only not annoying, but also carries a couple of very difficult scenes.
Overall, Looper is one of the most original sci-fi films in years, even if the thriller plot is rather predictable (until the barnstorming ending that is) with superbly directed action scenes and a superb self-awareness that allows for a level of enjoyment that a more po-faced actioner just couldn’t manage.
Writer/Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
Runtime: 119 minutes