Looper Review: Rian Johnson Does Indie Time Travel

rating: 4

Looper, the latest effort from Brick writer/director Rian Johnson, is a time travel story that might be extending far beyond its reach. That€™s to say, time travel films have a reputation for glaring plot holes and inconsistencies. Why? Well, because the very notion of time travel is so complex, it€™s impossible to craft something that truly makes sense €“ if time travel doesn€™t make sense, how the heck can a movie based around a nonsense concept make sense either? It€™s hard to create a perfect loop, as it were, one that is impervious to error, and Looper is no exception. Still, for all its flaws, Johnson€™s third film (his most ambitious to date) passes the test. Much of the story takes place in Kansas in the year 2044. It€™s here that Joe (the brilliant Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a role written for him) works as a Looper, a blend of hitman and executioner who kills and disposes of targets who are shipped back through time 30 years from the future. Time travel has been invented in the future, you see, but due to a human €œtagging€ system, it€™s impossible to kill somebody without the body being found. Time travel has also been outlawed, and only criminals use it to perpetrate acts such as these. Joe waits on the other end for his targets to appear. They do, like clockwork, and he shoots them dead instantly when they arrive out of thin air €“ hands tied, heads bagged €“ with zero remorse. Then he burns the bodies and gets paid. This routine is disrupted, however, when Joe€™s latest target appears before him without the usual bag over his head. This minor change in proceedings throws Joe and his hesitation reveals an extremely strange occurrence: it€™s him, 30 years in the future, as played by Bruce Willis. And now the pair of them have to figure out just what the hell is going on. Especially since Old Joe has returned to the past for a reason. Gordon-Levitt wears contacts and prosthetics to appear more like Bruce Willis, and does well to encompass Willis€™ mannerisms into his performance. He€™s got the smirk down, for sure. Johnson€™s future is arguably the film€™s best character. He renders his dystopia with great detail, and it€™s not a nice place to live. People wander about with large pistols tucked into their trousers, and the smallest crimes seem to warrant the most extreme punishments: as this world is established €“ a believable blend of rising towers and filthy slums €“ we witness a robbery gone wrong as a vagrant is shot down whilst trying to steal a suitcase. Nobody seems to notice. There are the inevitable hover bikes and futuristic guns, too, but it seems right. This is a vision of 2044 that rings true. There€™s a definite attempt to explore what would happen should you ever meet yourself, and that seemed to be one of Looper's most appealing aspects. But Johnson only gives Gordon-Levitt and Willis one chance to talk it out, and the scene is less interesting than you might expect. They order the same dish at a diner and they know some of the same things (in Johnson€™s universe, it€™s possible for the future to be changed), but they don€™t get to build up a relationship that€™s anything more than surface level. Looper shifts in and out of action spectacle instead, and it€™s these moments that are rendered brilliantly through Johnson€™s unique staging and camera technique. The performances are all top notch: Jeff Daniels makes a welcomed appearance as a crime boss, and Emily Blunt plays a plucky farm owner who easily defies the female role stereotypes and makes her character tough and human. All this adds up to an intriguing prospect that appears to have come to Johnson half-formed. Taken with the idea, he€™s had to come up with a number of slightly contrived reasons for certain things to happen the way they do so he can keep his plot together. The strangest thing is that Looper€™s story remains uncomplicated. Those expecting multiple tangents and unexpected shifts in time will be disappointed: Looper€™s complexity never approaches that of, say, Primer (what does?), and instead veers onto a secondary path that deals with a completely different story strand. The reason the time travel aspect may appear more complex than it actually is? Because the plot holes make it that way. Why aren€™t the targets sent back in time with their eyes poked out and their legs broken to stop them from running away when they arrive in the past, for example? For sci-fi aficionados, it€™s all too obvious that Johnson€™s time travel doesn€™t really cut the mustard €“ there are too many inconsistencies, and the rules of the universe don€™t seem fixed or fair. The plot feels unsatisfying as a result. The film€™s final scene, especially, suffers from a strange lapse in Joe€™s judgement: his decision (which cannot be explained without spoiling part of the movie) seems entirely unnecessary given what we€™ve learned. Get past these details and Looper is a rare treat: embedded with indie spirit, it's visually arresting, bold, stylish, and brilliantly fun to watch. It€™s just not as smart as it thinks it is. Looper is in cinemas now.
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