film review: Looper (2012)

1 Comment
film review: Looper (2012)

I saw Looper a few weeks ago now but I’ve been putting off the review, mainly because I just don’t know what I can say about it… “It’s a good solid sci-fi flick that you should go and see” seemed a little sparse. So… I thought a bit harder and this is what I came up with.

Looper, joseph gordon levitt, bruce willisYou may or may not recall from previous posts, sci-fi is my favourite genre of film. In general. Post apocalyptic / alternate future films, and even more specifically, dystopian films, are actually my favourite but any sci-fi will do at a push.

As a result, I’m probably a bit more strict on Looper than I should be… I go to every sci-fi film expecting to be blown away by it. To be challenged by the concepts it raises and to be lost in thought about it for days. I didn’t get that with Looper… but then I guess it’s hardly fair to expect it.

The truth is, Looper is a great film. It’s essentially a sci-fi crime drama thriller but it’s got a great central concept and actually manages to deliver, like so many sci-fi films don’t – I’m looking at you Daybreakers (review), a film that had me thinking, half way through, that you could do a brilliant remake of it.

Looper, I think, is a film that will never need to be re-made. While it may not be perfect, it’s such a well constructed piece of film making that I’d hardly imagine that even ironing out some of the kinks could make it any better. If you know what I mean.

The central tenet is as below. If you want to know nothing then look away but the main concept is all revealed in the first few minutes so it’s not particularly spoilerish, trust me.

The film is set in 2044, time travel has been invented but it was quickly outlawed and now the only people using it are, as far as we know, the mob. A Looper is a hitman, in 2044, who kills people who are sent back from the future. In 2074 bodies have apparently become very difficult to dispose of, so this illegal use of time travel is the easiest way to do it. At the end of a Looper’s contract they are sent their future selves to despatch of and they get to spend the next 30 years or so living the high life with the money they’ve made.

Not that bad a deal really.

The film doesn’t go into how you could possibly outlaw time travel after it’s discovered but it’s not important. It’s more a crime thriller than a sci-fi film but if you compare it to a film like Total Recall, where sci-fi is really just part of the setting, then it definitely is one…

What makes Looper a great film is how it manages to weave those two (or three) genres together. It keeps up the pace of the crime thriller but dances with the sci-fi concept without ever twisting the story of either to fit the other.

I was particularly gratified by how Looper conjured a few characters that I cared about. So often in films these days, not just sci-fi or thrillers, the characters are place-holders, stereotypes that fulfill plot needs when the time comes. Here the quality of writing is such that Rian Johnson shapes whole personalities in brief conversations.

Which is not to belittle the job done by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, where is a good script without the right delivery? Supporting players too, like Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano all step up when required.

With Looper, Rian Johnson has created a cohesive world, recognisable as our own but altered by what has come since our time. His future is a bit more grimy, a bit more greedy, it’s a bit more ugly… but what he’s done with his world is very clever. He’s made it a personal world. He hasn’t reached too far, attempting to shoehorn in a great moral tale, condemning the human race to a future of dirt and misery. The story of our Looper is a small one, in the grand scheme of things, but that makes it all the more compelling.

I would love to give Looper a higher score than I’m going to. It’s a fantastic blend of genres… but sadly, my love for sci-fi just won’t let me. It might be clever, what Johnson has done, but I want the big story. Can I really fault Johnson for that though? It’s only his third feature after all… let’s see what he does next. It’s just that, for a film to be a classic, to get to 9 or 10 in my eyes, it has to bring it. It has to reach further and make it.

Ultimately Looper does what it sets out to do in eminiently admirable fashion… it’s just that I want more.


1 Comment

  1. comment-avatar
    Harry LezzoffabitOctober 22, 2012 - 12:19 am

    It was a cool film, but I will keep my comments slightly cryptic because it would be a shame to ruin it for anyone who has not seen it yet.
    1. I wanted Bruce to succeed in his mission. I know that makes me a bad person with a depressingly utilitarian worldview that contradicts my professed beliefs, but it would have been a whole lot neater. That being said, it would have been far less of a film if that had happened. The speech in the restaurant about being selfish is kind of ironic because actually it was Bruce who was the selfish one, and the redemption he claims to have experienced later in life pales into insignificance when compared to the sheer moral cojones that it took for things to have ended as they did.
    2. There is a moral narrative here but not the usual moral narrative about how we are all damned and how we will make the future suck because of our fallen nature. Like many films and books about the future, it is in fact very traditional in its moral affirmations: it stands for the capacity to choose,and the idea that are more defined by our choices than by inexorable destiny; and it seems to be supportive of the very old moral maxim that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that the end does not justify the means.
    3. Maybe this is why it’s better than the run of the mill Sci Fi- an old fashioned dilemma where a tragic hero has a moment of insight and growth, which leaves us all better off for having watched it, and all told in a tantalizing depiction of the future with some cool ultra-violence.

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