Sunday 11 November 2018

Movie Review: Looper (2012)

A science fiction thriller with a riotous premise, Looper delivers mind bending and intelligent excitement.

In Kansas of the year 2044, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is employed by gangster boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) as an assassin to kill mob targets sent back from 30 years in the future, when time travel is invented but outlawed. Abe's assassins, known as loopers, also include the high-strung Kid Blue (Noah Segan) and the more laid back Seth (Paul Dano) who is among the humans evolved to possess a low level of gimmicky telekinesis. Joe maintains a rocky relationship of sorts with exotic dancer Suzie (Piper Perabo).

The loopers all know that eventually they will kill their future self, live out 30 years in retirement before looping back to their death. When Seth fails to kill his future self, he pays a high price, but Joe learns that a vicious new mob boss known only as the Rainmaker has taken control of the future and is terminating all looper contracts.

When the future old version of Joe (Bruce Willis) loops back he evades death, and both versions of Joe incur Abe's wrath. Old Joe is on a mission to find the young Rainmaker and kill him, a quest that will involve single mother Sara (Emily Blunt), who is living on an isolated farm with her young son Cid.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Looper blends in elements from The Terminator 2 with traditional gun-for-hire and destiny-versus-fate narratives. The result is a refreshingly original science fiction time travel action movie, with a focus on characters rather than mechanics. Joe and Old Joe admit to each other that it is best not to try and understand the mental convolutions of co-existing in the same time zone, and Johnson wisely hustles the action along towards a tidy resolution.

With a quite complicated and creative hypothesis, Johnson astutely invests almost the entire first half of the film to build a sturdy foundation. Joe's profession, employers, co-workers, sexual partner, weaponry, and the consequences of botching a job are introduced sequentially to normalize the mobster world of Kansas in the year 2044, before Willis as Old Joe and Blunt as the woman to bring them together make their appearance.

The second half then gallops forth as a smart character-driven action movie, with Johnson reserving a couple of science evolution surprises for maximum impact when needed most. And for all the innovative thinking on display, Looper starts to converge on universal human themes as it hurtles towards its climax. Motherhood, sacrifice and the power of dedicated nurturing rise to the fore.

The Kansas setting gives the film a distinctive flavour. Wide open spaces surrounded by cornfields capable of obscuring everything from vagrants to assassins create unique opportunities, and help to demystify the relatively near future.

The cast is capable, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt adding plenty of quality without getting in the way of the imaginative story. Gordon-Levitt and Willis succeed in mirroring two sides of the same damaged person, while Blunt injects the most nuance with a tough exterior hiding both vulnerability and steely determination. Looper is filled with macho guys twirling futuristic guns, but not surprisingly it's a woman who knows how best to influence the future.

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