Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012)

What's it about? Okay, pay attention now, cos this gets a bit messy. It's the year 2044. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper, an assassin who kills targets sent back in time from the year 2074. In 2074, you see, time-travel has been invented, but outlawed, so the only people who use it are criminal gangs who dispatch their victims by sending them back in time to be killed to avoid any murder investigations in their time. Okay so far? Now, when the gangs decide they want to tie up any loose ends, they send back the older version of the looper, who is then killed by his younger self, thereby 'closing the loop'. Loopers accept this as part of the deal. But in this story, Old Joe (Bruce Willis) escapes assassination by Joe and goes on the run, intent on changing the future for himself and everyone. So there you go. If you want to go and have a lie down before reading on, I'll wait here.

Is it any good? Don't get put off by my convoluted explanation above, the film does a pretty exemplary job of laying out the premise in the first 10 minutes, before getting on with the rest of the film. But here's a thing about time-travel films. If a character at any point says not think too hard about the whole thing because it'll fry your brain, you can rest assured the fiilmmakers know the time-travel element film doesn't entirely stand up to scrutiny and are beseeching you not to let that spoil the ride. This is the case here; think too much (or even a little) about it and it'll crumble, but go with the flow and there's plenty to enjoy here. Part of Johnson's tactics to distract from the plot-holes are to make this more than just a sci-fi film, throwing elements of noir, horror, gangster and psycho-drama into the mix. And in the first half of the film this makes for an entertaining mash-up of genres, presenting a futuristic city with a scruffy, downbeat underbelly, which provides the backdrop for the best moments in the film as we get to know Joe and his business.The pacing flags somewhat in the second half of the film, though, as the action relocates to the countryside and Joe encounters single mother Sara (Emily Blunt). Here, the horror element comes to the fore and although it keeps us guessing about what will happen next, I felt it never sat entirely well with what had gone before.

Acting-wise, much has been made of the fact that a combination of prosthetics and digital tweaking have made Gordon-Levitt like a young Willis, but it's actually his little smirks and mannerisms that sell this aspect, rather than his occasionally odd-looking face. It's another charismatic turn from Gordon-Levitt and he anchors the film with aplomb. Willis, however, gets rather short-changed by the script, being given little to do than wield weapons and prove remarkably hard to kill, which is a bit disappointing. I'd have preferred the film had put the two actors together for more time in order to build empathy with both Joes and to explore the type of conversations that would presumably occur in a meeting between a young and old version of the same person. Instead, it opts for a slightly rushed romantic element to raise the emotional stakes, before building to a competently handled action climax. All in all, it's certainly worth seeing and is a cut above most blockbusters in its ideas and ambition, but in its efforts to be clever and affecting, it doesn't quite close the loop.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Like with Inception in 2010 and Source Code in 2011, there has been great delight amongst fans and critics alike that another sci-fi film with great ideas has stormed the box-office, and it is indeed gratifying to see another big-budget film that's not afraid to ask the audience to think as they watch. However, as others have noted, these ideas aren't really all that original, popping up previously in many guises. I've taken the liberty of going back in time to trace Looper's genaeology and have presented its family tree below.

Anything else I should know? If you like this, then you should really check out Johnson and Gordon-Levitt's first collaboration, the fantastic Brick, which relocates a noir storyline to a high school setting. It's clever, quirky and very good indeed. And, of course, if you haven't seen Willis' previous time-travel outing in Twelve Monkeys, then sort it out. It remains his best performance by a country mile and is also one of the few time-travel films that plays out its premise in an entirely satisfying manner.

What does the Fonz think?

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