Science fiction is a hard beast to tame. The best sci-fi uses its futuristic concept to drive a strong narrative, whereas the worst sci-fi spends ages showing the audience a bunch of flashing lights and flying cars, forgetting that there should be a story somewhere. Needless to say, Looper is a phenomenal piece of science-fiction, and proof that Rian Johnson has firmly established himself as one of cinema’s finest contemporary writers and directors.
It’s 2044. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but in 30 years it will be, and it will principally be used by mob bosses to dispose of those they’ve killed off. They send the bodies back in time to be killed mercilessly by “Loopers”, unskilled, untrained, murdering wage-slaves, happy to take whatever work is there. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper, and his life is as mundane and repetitive as any fast-food vendor or supermarket clerk. Just...y’know, he kills people.
The routine is cataclysmically interrupted one day when placed before him is the future version of himself (Bruce Willis), and he ain’t going down without a fight. What follows is a classic game of cat and mouse, the young Joe desperate to find his older self so as to avoid any of the painful repercussions that may befall him (more on that later), the older Joe back with the sole intention of killing the man who sent him back in the first place – a mysterious futuristic mob boss called The Rainmaker, who could be one of three people Joe has on his hit list. Problem? They’re all kids.
Looper is proof that you can get away with anything, and I mean anything, in a film, so long as you treat everything else with the respect it deserves. The film is action packed, beautifully shot, stunningly well acted to the man and written with all the panache and fizz that made Johnson’s previous two efforts, Brick and The Brothers Bloom, so wonderful. Because of this we allow the film to go to seriously dark, incredibly controversial places, that in any other film may come across as needlessly provocative. Here, they are damn impressive.
Looper is proof that you can get away with anything, and I mean anything, in a film, so long as you treat everything else with the respect it deserves
In terms of the script, Johnson performs an incredible balancing act with the dialogue and exposition. The catch-22 of science fiction is that almost always chunks of dialogue will have to be used up telegraphing something about the future that is new or different, something that defines it as “the future”, which can often result in prolonged scenes of clunk, bland exposition – one of my main issues with Inception. For example, our understanding of Looper demands that we understand what a “Looper” is and that we get to grips with this understanding of time travel, which in turn could open the door to all manner of plot holes and pitfalls. Whenever that door even comes close to opening, Johnson slams it shut, locks it up and throws away the key. He explains his concepts as succinctly as possible, allowing the story to move forward uninterrupted.
A great script is nothing without great performances however, and in the two leads Willis and Levitt the film has two fantastic protagonists. However, these two are perhaps outshone by Emily Blunt, whose personal story is really the film’s emotional core. A single mother raising her tempestuous son, she is powerful, aggressive, yet fragile and frustrated too. Her performance is outstanding, and credit must go to Johnson for placing her in such an idyllic setting – some of the still shots of her at her farmhouse look like they’ve been plucked straight out of an Andrew Wyeth painting. Just gorgeous.
It’s been described as this generation’s The Matrix, but in truth, it’s far, far better. Rian Johnson’s movies may be getting bigger in scope and in concept, but at the heart they are intimate, expertly structured, dialogue-driven pieces that will surely help seed the next generation of directing talent. Johnson’s star may be rising, but the light it shines is still as bright as it ever was.
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