Sunday, 7 October 2012

'Looper' Review

In 2005, Rian Johnson’s debut feature Brick hit cinemas. Focusing on Joseph Gordon Levitt’s loner figure Brendan, it re-cast the teen high school drama as a pulpy detective story, using its noir themes as a catalyst for the intense feelings of isolation and angst that dog many a young teen. Like its peer, Donnie Darko, it’s revered as a fantastical genre feature yet is adored for its close familiarity to the feelings many of us tackle in our adolescence. Looper, Johnson’s second collaboration with JGL, might have similarly noirish trappings, but the resulting mood is decidedly different – where Brick settled steadily under your skin and sapped away at the marrow, Looper’s gritty landscape is offset by a glossy, even jocular approach that, whilst great fun, doesn’t quite leave the same mark.

In 2074, murder has been made near impossible through the act of tagging, so mob bosses use outlawed time travel technology to send their targets thirty years into the past, where they are swiftly despatched of by “Loopers.” Due to the nature of their practice, all Loopers must eventually assassinate their own future self, thus closing the loop, preserving the timeline and earning a hefty payoff in the process. When cocky young Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) fails to take down his older counterpart (Bruce Willis), Joe must track down his target and ensure the loop is closed, all while “Old” Joe goes about ensuring the dystopic future he’s returned from never comes to pass.

Voices from many quarters have marvelled at the film’s willingness to forgo exposition and merely “tell it as it is,” a somewhat worrying statement when you consider just how much explanatory dialogue is present in the film. Make no mistake, Looper is no Primer level headache, but even as it chooses not to explain the logic behind its time travel machine (and honestly, how many time travel films actually do?) it puts more meat on its bones than, say, fellow recent genre inductee Dredd. This logic on the part of many critics is instead perhaps indicative of just how commonplace spoon-fed mythos building has come to be in genre features, and is less of a plus for Looper than it is a belated mark against the increasingly less relevant Inception, god-like as Nolan’s dreamscape thriller was hailed to be upon its release. For Looper’s best moments are when it chooses to indulge a little more in its reality – the moments when it fills in the 30 year gap in Joe’s life, or hints at the dark future awaiting in the hands of the foreboding Rainmaker.

In contrast, the film suffers in the areas where Brick really exceeded – character. After a rollicking first half of gritty sci-fi action and intrigue, Looper starts to slip and slide its way to the finish line upon the introduction of farmer Sara (Emily Blunt) and her intriguing young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). These scenes, necessary as they are, feel more than a little sluggish after what came before, and are largely saved by the continual probing of Joe’s (old and young) moral ambiguity. Johnson has taken pains to craft a grimy, punkish world for his characters to live in that is then left at the wayside so we can all spend some time down the farm, Witness style, and the feeling of whiplash is more than a little jarring.

That said, by its climax, Looper has done a strong job of crafting a solid story, with Levitt and Willis functioning well as two sides of the same coin – it’s a shame they couldn’t have spent more screen-time together. Nathan Johnson’s percussive soundtrack keeps things ticking along nicely, perfectly capturing the mood, with the likes of Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels rounding out a plucky cast. Talk of Looper making it onto the top five lists of 2012 seems a little optimistic and short-sighted in light of some of the other gems this year has offered, but this is still a rare creature - an intelligent science fiction film that doesn’t try and shove its intellectuality down your throat, but is instead content to just enjoy itself. And I enjoyed it too.