First up, let me state that Looper is a first rate film, likely to make my top 10 list for the year. Do you like fast paced, fun-filled action? Go see Looper. Do you like well written character drama? Go see Looper. Do you think of yourself as a genre geek? Go see Looper. You get the general gist; this film holds appeal for a broad range of audiences. Now, onto a necessary piece of admin…
Prior to delving into the meat of this review I feel I should reiterate the thoughts of Looper writer/director Rian Johnson: the less you know about the film before seeing it, the better your viewing experience is likely to be. Though I will endeavour to keep the review relatively spoiler free I fully support Rian’s advice to stay completely ‘unspoiled’ – if you are able AND have already made up your mind to see the film.
If you feel you need more convincing or have already seen the film, read on…
Looperis one of those rare beasts: a genre film driven more by story and character than by spectacle and novelty whilst simultaneously imbued with an inherent love for its genre make-up. What elevates this experience above the norm is that the character drama at the film’s core is a strongly written piece that would easily stand up if grafted into another setting. Looper’s basic plotting is a tight weave; remove the narrative twists and turns and you’re left with a very contained movement of thematic ideas in a style (admirably) evoking a Raymond Carver short story as much as its more obvious Philip K. Dick influences. If proceedings occasionally begin to feel a little exposition heavy Johnson utilises this as a tool to directly confront inevitable genre trainspotting. This is exemplified in an exchange between Willis and Gordon-Levitt’s characters about the implications of time-travel in which Willis repeats the refrain “It doesn’t matter!”
As is often the case when you have good material to work with, the cast give almost universally excellent performances. The central duo of Gordon-Levitt and Willis are, indeed, so well matched and contrasted (aided in no small part by deft use of makeup) that the film could have survived on their head-to-head performances. As it stands the filmmaker has populated the supporting cast with incredible character actors who you might expect to see in much more significant roles. Case in point: I was surprised to see the always excellent Garrett Dillahunt as a minor criminal enforcer anchoring the single extended scene he occupies. Emily Blunt impresses in the weighty though restrained role of single mother Sara, holding her own in a rugged and isolated environment. For my money Noah Segan’s aspiring criminal underling ‘Kid Blue’ outguns Paul Dano’s similarly out of his depth Looper Seth: mirrored youths with something to prove, unconsciously wearing their insecurity like ineffectual overcoats.
The 2044 setting is almost evenly split between chaotic urban environs – several steps removed from the noir-soaked futurescape of Ridley Scott’s seminal Blade Runner (1982) but generally headed in that aesthetic direction – and the surrounding rural cornfields and farmhouses on the outskirts of the city – think M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002), only shot in daylight. The production design team have worked up a grimy realism with just enough futuristic touches to satisfy the temporal leap (hover bikes, retinally administered narcotics, redesigned firearms to name a few). The natural feel of the progress on display seems relatable, believable; aesthetic choices which prevent the setting from unnecessarily taking you out of the story. Props and ‘tech’ are handled in a similarly practical and consistent manner.
Visually the film is engrossing. Regular Johnson director of photography Steve Yedlin does a fantastic job of capturing plenty of excellent action wide shots (which I greatly prefer to strings of messy close-ups) and dusty vistas which then pull into full body or facial close-ups. The slight overuse of low slung camera angles can be forgiven by the overall precision of the shot setups and judicious use of camera movement – the ‘shaky-cam’ averse need not fear! Composer Nathan Johnson, who has scored all three of cousin Rian’s films, creates a complementary aural palette which stands on its own as admirable work. Though by no means minimalist, the musical Johnson prefers a light hand to a heavy one serving up a score which underlines and counterpoints rather than simply goading ‘correct’ audience response.
Johnson even utilises the film’s background environment for thematic musing upon possible directions our society is taking. Looper’s inhabitants seem to have been forced to polar extremes of wealth and poverty as if Johnson has extrapolated out a post-economic-apocalyptic future from the ashes of the global financial crisis. Shifts in the global balance of power are also indirectly addressed in a way reminiscent of the cultural mélange in Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity imaginings.
Excellently written, shot, directed, and acted the filmmakers are aware of the possible shortcomings of such a film and have worked smartly to (mostly) mitigate these. In Looper they have realised a highly engaging, entertaining movie with a story and characters you can sink your teeth into. Ranking alongside such exemplary genre fare as Duncan Jones’ sci-fi psycho-drama Moon (2009), Nacho Vigalondo’s small scale time-travel head trip Timecrimes (2007), and Drew Goddard’s riotous sci-fi comedy-horror The Cabin in the Woods (2011), Looper showcases spirited, intelligent filmmaking that evinces great love for the cinematic form.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell