Aggravated Suicide in a Tense Situation
Yet move evidence of dodgy judgement at the UK's premiere cinema chain named after the Greek word for theatre: never mind their fondness for not showing Jason Statham movies, converting perfectly lovely foyers into coffeeshops, and not employing nearly enough (or indeed any) ushers to keep the vast numbers of foreign students who patronise their establishments quiet, they've also decided not to show Rian Johnson's Looper at any of their standard cinemas.
I really wanted to see this film, given the subject matter and glowing reviews it's received, and so there was nothing to do but attempt to get to Oxford's out-of-town multiplex, an undertaking I have never before attempted without the benefit of a lift. To cut a long story short, two bus rides, a reasonably long walk, some unplanned hitch-hiking and a possible unexpected appearance on The Super League Show later, I found my way to said establishment.
The epic journey turned out to be worth it as Looper is that rare beast, a good, intelligent SF film that works as a satisfying genre movie too. Our protagonist is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an inhabitant of Kansas City in the year 2044 and on the face of it a fairly nasty piece of work – a drug addict who funds his habit by working as a mob executioner, or 'Looper'. Why this unusual nomenclature? Well, therein lies the tale.
Joe's employers are based in 2074, by which point time travel has been invented. In order to confound the cops in that year, when the syndicates want someone eliminated, they have him zapped back to 2044 where he is instantly killed by Joe or another Looper and his body disposed of. However, there is a catch – to protect themselves, sooner or later the mob always send the 2074 version of the Looper back in time to be killed by their younger self (this basically constitutes a termination of contract in more ways than one).
Most often the Looper executes himself without even realising it until it's too late – but mistakes do happen, and the consequences for everyone involved are severe (Johnson includes a sequence of bravura nastiness and ingenuity early on to illustrate this point). Inevitably the day dawns when Joe finds himself sighting along his blunderbuss barrel at. . . himself.
But the future Joe (played by Bruce Willis) is not just here to be another victim – there are very particular things he wants to do very badly now he's back in 2044. Can young Joe figure out what his elder self is up to? And even if he can, can he really bring himself to end his own life this way?
Well, the first thing one must say is that, unless you just treat time travel as a plot device to get you to the scene of an adventure, it's virtually impossible to come up with a story using it which actually makes sense. Even the first Terminator, which seems to have been an influence on this film and is generally pretty coherent, got accused recently by an acquaintance of not making any logical sense. And while Looper has a pretty good stab at explaining why it is that future Joe doesn't remember everything that's going to have happened in the film on account of his already will having-had been there as young Joe (oh, time travel, gotta love the grammar), the same is broadly true: most of the details don't really hang together.
On the other hand, Looper's consistent inventiveness, wit and style do a tremendous job, not necessarily of covering this up, but ensuring you're not actually that bothered by it. The storytelling manages to be both clear and surprising, setting up a complicated scenario with commendable speed and economy and then constantly finding new spins and angles on it. On top of this, the movie's action sequences are also solidly put together and genuinely exciting.
What really makes the film work are the central performances – Jeff Daniels has a great extended cameo as a very laid back crime-boss from the future, but most of the work is done by the leads. Emily Blunt deploys an extremely decent American accent as a character who's crucial to the second half of the story, and manages to be more than just decorative. Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a sterling performance, all the moreso given the constraints on him – for one thing, he's wearing prosthetics to make him look a bit more like a young Bruce Willis, and for another, he's not just playing Joe, he's playing Willis playing Joe. The prosthetics are not 100% convincing but the performance is. Bruce Willis himself is at the absolute top of his game in this film – watching him here you remember just how good he can be, both as a straight actor and an action movie star.
The presence of Willis, plus a few other elements, really put one in mind of the early films of M Night Shyamalan (before he completely lost the plot) – is this to suggest that Looper concludes with a monumental twist? I fear I cannot in all decency confirm or deny this. In any case, this is a startlingly good and clever piece of film-making that entertains and surprises virtually non-stop for two hours. Recommended.