Directors: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon
2012 has been a big year for sci-fi, but while the various remakes (Total Recall), prequels (Prometheus) and sequels (Men In Black III) have proven to be divisive among critics and cinemagoers, one sci-fi film is set to impress across the board.
Best of all, it doesn’t slot into any of those aforementioned categories. Looper offers a breath of fresh air on the time-travel formula. As with any great film that has time travel, the sci-fi mumbo jumbo takes a back seat to strong characters, a compelling storyline and, in the instance of Looper, plenty of action to move it forward.
Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is one of a group of hitmen known as ‘Loopers’ in the year 2042. He has the job of waiting in a field for his targets—hooded and bound—to be transported back in time for assassination. Joe then disposes of the target body that technically doesn’t exist, collects the silver bars that are strapped to the target’s back, and enjoys all of the perks of a well-paying gig.
To kill time, Joe practices a foreign language; all part of his bigger plan to eventually leave the Looper lifestyle and comfortably retire far away from his old life. Joe’s plans are unravelled, though, when his future self (Willis) is sent back in time and escapes before Joe can knock him off.
Because of his failure, Joe’s boss (Daniels) sends his goons to hunt down present and future him. Present Joe is keen to ‘fix the mistake’—that is to say, kill his future self—while future Joe is willing to go to any lengths to protect the woman he loves; a woman that present Joe is years away from meeting.
After barely escaping capture, present Joe stumbles onto a farm that’s occupied by Sara (Blunt) and her son Cid (Gagnon). With both versions of Joe being hunted, it’s only a matter of time before an inevitable showdown between them and the mob goons that are pursuing both men.
Aside from some pacing issues in the first half of the film, Looper is an immersive and engaging world right from the beginning. Writer/director Rian Johnson has come a long way since his humble beginnings with cult-classic detective noir high-school tale Brick; even if some of that noir influence is present in Looper.
Thanks to some impressive prosthetics work and a lot of acting skill, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays such a believable version of a younger Bruce Willis that you’ll wish they had more screen time together. Watching them talk it out, shoot it out or, hell, even stare it out, are some of the most entertaining moments of the film.
Everyone brings out their A-game for Looper, too. Gordon-Levitt and Willis carry the film, but the supporting cast brings the goods to the table, lifting Looper to impressive heights. Jeff Daniels adds depth to his mob boss character, Emily Blunt puts in her best performance to date as Sara, but special praise has to go out to child-actor Pierce Gagnon who sinks his teeth into a layered character in much the same way that Hayley Joel Osment did in The Sixth Sense. This kid is one to watch for future films.
While the action is solid and frequent enough to keep action-junkies sated, the real surprise is just how dark Rian Johnson is willing to go with the material. Present Joe’s insistence on killing his future self is really only the beginning. Once you see how far future Joe is willing to go to protect the woman he loves, you may have to collect your jaw off the ground.
It’s because of this and the alignment of all the factors that make a film great—performances, plot and character arcs—that keeps Looper fresh from start to finish. Looper isn’t just one of the best sci-fi films of 2012; it’s one of the best films of the year. Go see it.
LOOPER is in cinemas on the 27th of September.
Review: Nathan Lawrence