In a world where time travel is possible, but deemed illegal, Joe a ‘looper’, a gun-for-hire whose targets are sent to him from the future must decide whether to remain loyal to his employer, or to trust in a target that brings with him a revelation about his own destiny.
It’s been four long years since writer/director Rian Johnson’s last feature film was released. In 2008 he wrote and directed ‘The Brothers Bloom’ and in the time since has worked on several episodes of Breaking Bad.
‘Looper’ is his third film and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt alongside Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. ‘Looper’ is a return to the time travel/sci-fi setting, a sub-genre that has been visited several times already by the likes of ‘Terminator’, or ‘12 Monkeys’, however Johnson brings an excellently crafted, well articulated, and detailed film to the genre.
With ‘Looper’ Johnson achieves a great blend of style and substance, which is to say this film brings with it a thought provoking, compelling, and immersive story which articulates the rules of the fantastical elements of the setting, and never betrays those rules throughout the entire film.
The script poses a number of ideas and questions to the audience regarding morality, destiny, free will, even redemption but at its heart ‘Looper’ remains an emotional story with relatable themes and refuses to draw clear lines around its characters dictating their actions as right or wrong. Instead the film takes much enjoyment in its characters ambiguity as their various motivations and actions are explored with a willingness to go to some very dark material including a chilling sequence in the first act, this is a film with the courage of its convictions.
Amongst the various ideas that Johnson is throwing at the audience with ‘Looper’, is also a number of action sequences that are delivered in an exciting fashion, paced out far enough so that there is something more exhilarating about them when they are delivered. Yet with such strong ideas driving the film the action scenes themselves aren’t where this film really shines.
<Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing that’s not in the trailer>
Within the film Johnson manages his characters with an extreme eye to detail, particularly regarding the character of Joe portrayed by both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. Initially the transition feels like a stretch but it’s managed incredibly well as the two portrayals are brought closer together throughout the film. The altering of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s physical appearance is initially a little jarring but feels surprisingly natural as the film progress with what feels like an endless number of subtle changes throughout.
Overall the entire cast deliver strong performances, however a special mention goes to Pierce Gagnon who manages an array of emotions in a convincing manner with a relatively short amount of screen time to do it. He brings both the innocent of a child and the heaviness of deep emotional scarring to the screen in a way that lives up to the serious tone of the film.
‘Looper’ does have a tendency to control its pacing to a slow burn for much of the film, however this is clearly an intentional move by Johnson to take the time to build the relationships of the characters on screen, particularly with characters that don’t appear until well into the film but are integral for the final act to work.
While one of the less memorable aspects of the film, the visual effects are no less impressive with an interesting distant futuristic landscape and a believable near future landscape with a half-integration of futuristic technology against a familiar modern world setting.
His third and most ambitious feature film to date, in ‘Looper’ Rian Johnson has delivered a smart sci/fi – time travel tale with an eye for detail, compelling material and thought provoking ideas driving it. Johnson continues to impress with his intelligent approach to film and viewed so recently after some of the summer blockbuster releases, ‘Looper’ highlights the tremendous difference that good writing brings to a film.
I’m giving ‘Looper’ 8 out of 10 stars, it’s released in cinemas around Australia on Thursday 27th September 2012.