Review: The Walk

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DIR: Robert Zemeckis • WRI:Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne • PRO: Jack Rapke, Tom Rothman, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Jeremiah O’Driscoll • MUS: Alan Silvestri • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon

If you ever take anything away from these reviews let it be this – do not go see The Walk in the IMAX if you’ve had a few too many the previous night. I went to an early screening, fresh as a daisy and sober as a judge, and still was close to painting the always spotless cinema floors with my Eggs Benedict. Apparently, I am not the only one whose tummy got violently ravaged by a swarm of butterflies that mild September morn. It would seem there is a mild hysteria surrounding Robert Zemeckis’ new RealD 3D extravaganza that is causing viewers to become nauseous. There are even reports of people bailing the screening with intent to puke. No, this film doesn’t have a young girl cursing out Christ and masturbating with a crucifix, but a rather Peter Pan look alike trapezing between the World Trade Centre.

 

It might sound cartoonish and it is, but that’s the direction in which Zemeckis chooses to go with in The Walk, not to mention incorporating his patented Disneyfied dream chasing philosophy that’s present in Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Polar Bear Express. The 2008 Man On A Wire documentary about Philippe Petit’s breathtaking stunt portrayed enough raw reality that attempting to reenact it through a Hollywood feature would be futile. Zemeckis’ main concern is the spectacle and the technical preparation it took to reach that spectacle. We are introduced to the biographical movie by Petit, played cheekily by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who breaks the fourth wall from upon the Statue of Liberty to help nudge the narrative along. It’s children’s story-time etiquette and in many ways The Walk is a kid’s movie, certainly in terms of style and presentation.

 

The film boasts a palette of cinematic proportions. Petit’s younger days in Paris as a street performer are shot in black and white, except for the props essential to his act, which are presented in sharp bright colours. These early scenes have a Parisian vibrancy about them that is enhanced by a rattling jazz score. We track further back to his childhood, to when he first fell in love with high-wire artistry and his first encounter with his semi-mentor, Papa Rudi, played by Ben Kingsley. When we fast forward to Paris again, Petit becomes romantically involved with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who’s inanimate chic. Slowly he is moulding his accomplices that will help his dream come true.

 

None of these other characters really matter though, they are in a way just extra props for Petit’s act. There is no insight to them and they are all too easily persuaded by Petit to help him in his highly dangerous, expensive and illegal operation. It’s a one man show, two man including the dreaded wire, and that’s where the tension and suspense lies – on the wire. The anxiety builds and develops through various stages throughout the movie as his tight-rope walks get higher and higher, foreshadowing the biggest walk of them all that we all must suffer through.

 

The movie is about a stunt, but is disguised as a heist flick. They are pulling a caper, but instead bailing with the cash, they’re soaring for liberty – well they’re French init? The method and preparation for pulling off this stunt is highly intricate and Zemeckis takes us through the whole process on D-day. There are even Hitchcockian moments of suspense as Petit and his crew set up the wires across the two towers. Petit struggles against intruding security guards and disloyal acolytes throughout his mission, and this is even before he walks that tightrope.

 

Eventually, we get the money shot, the spectacle, the wooziness and in IMAX 3D it truly is gargantuan. Zemeckis has stated that he and his team aspired to induce vertigo and in this department he did not fail. Albeit, for all its skill and digital trickery, The Walk does not induce greatness, rather a playful and sometimes dizzying 3D ride, that works well in its own right. The movie in a way reflects the notion of cinema itself, and begs to be seen in theatres on the biggest screen, urging for audiences to experience an event rather than passively “Netflix and chill”. In theory, Zemeckis’ request is admirable and one that I correspond to, but on screen there have been better representatives.

 

Cormac O’Meara

PG (See IFCO for details)

122 minutes
The Walk is released 2nd October 2015

The Walk – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Obvious Child

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DIR/WRI: Gillian Robespierre • PRO: Elisabeth Holm • ED: Casey Brooks, Jacob Craycroft • DOP: Chris Teague  DES: Sara K. White  MUS: Chris Bordeaux • Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy

Obvious Child tells the story of comedienne Donna Stern, (Jenny Slate) a mid-twenties woman living in New York City. When Donna’s relationship falls apart, in turn, so does she. Drunken nights and wallowing in self-pity, Donna eventually finds Max (Jack Lacy), a handsome law student and the two hit it off. However, an unplanned pregnancy means that Donna must stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life.

Obvious Child is a warm, funny and almost tragic tale of life behind the microphone from a comic’s point of view. In reviewing the film, it’s hard not to think of Robin Williams and the emotions he must have been feeling away from the spotlight.

Jenny Slate’s portrayal of Donna Stern is probably the least elegant character you’re likely to encounter on screen. Vulgar jokes and low-brow humour are rife throughout but it’s a character that is real and most importantly believable.

When watching a stand-up show, it’s sometimes difficult to forget that the ones performing for our enjoyment have personal problems behind the scenes too and Obvious Child captures them all very well.

Confusing relationships, parental issues and an unplanned pregnancy to boot. Through it all, Donna takes us on a whirlwind of emotions. Happiness, sadness but each emotion tinged with a hint of innocence about it.

A thoroughly enjoyable film if you can look past the crude humour presented at times. Obvious Child is obviously recommended.

Shane Saunders

16 (See IFCO for details)

84 minutes

Obvious Child is released 29th August

Obvious Child –  Official Website

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Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For

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DIR: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller • WRI: Elan Mastai • PRO: Sergei Bespalov, Aaron Kaufman, Stephen L’Heureux, Mark C. Manuel, Robert Rodriguez • ED: Robert Rodriguez • DOP: Robert Rodriguez  DES: Caylah Eddleblute Steve Joyner  MUS; Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel • Cast: Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis

Released just under a decade since their first foray into the fully-digital world of Sin City, creator Frank Miller and director Robert Rodriguez continue their buddying up to the realm of neo-noir graphic-filming with a new chapter.  Anticipation was high for this one: with so much time to work on a sequel to such a well-received original, it seemed like the combination of Rodriguez’ dedication to the adaptation and Miller’s stellar source material could do no wrong.

 

Unfortunately for all involved, the length of time between the ground-breaking first and pretty-similar second hasn’t actually helped the cause.  When Sin City burst on the scene in 2005 with all the brilliance of something fresh, it looked and felt like a new era of cinema. Digital filming showed its unique possibilities, and manipulation of colour and bleached setups did the impossible in bringing a graphic novel to full visual realisation onscreen.  Most importantly, the stories, characters and actors were captivating from the get-go.  A Dame to Kill For does suffer somewhat, then, from comparison to the first – a constant challenge for sequels of all types, but perhaps most particularly for movies with a distinctive storytelling technique. All the notes of cheesiness, brutality and hyper-masculinity are in place as before, but somehow it never quite engages.

 

Most of the fault lies with the chosen storylines, but the actors must also take responsibility.  While notables like Jessica Alba (Nancy) and Mickey Rourke (Marv) reprise their roles, it is with visibly less enthusiasm, or perhaps too much awareness of the undercurrent of ‘coolness’ attached to their characters.  Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt promises much, delivers some, but fades into the background far too quickly to really get a grip on him – unfortunate for an actor who generally performs.  Taking over Dwight’s old face is Josh Brolin, whose B-movie credentials should make him a perfect insert for Sin City’s palette.  He gamely attacks the storyline of A Dame to Kill For, battling the raw sexuality of Eva Green’s Ava, but his monotonous narration is probably one of the worst things about the movie.  Surprisingly, this instalment takes the power away from its women and wallows in some pretty boring damsel-in-distress tableaus…Ava is the only female character to really grab the moment and terrorise the screen, which is especially shocking considering Gail (Rosario Dawson) makes an appearance.  One of the finest fighters in Old Town, Gail has always kept the girls safe and police out, but in this story barely touches the significant badassery Sin City originally afforded her.  Even Nancy’s angry transformation comes too little too late, and the intertwining stories do little to alleviate the flat feeling that permeates throughout.

 

Perhaps more thrills might have ensued had the screening been in 3D, as there were certainly scenes that were made specifically to wow the eyes of a 3D viewer, but overall it’s undeniable that A Dame to Kill For repeats the formula of Sin City without recapturing its essence.  Visually conforming to the beauty of the first, it looks great but feels repetitive – despite some brief moments of comedy, and lovingly-portrayed grotesquery, it never quite reclaims the form’s sheer brilliance.  Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything…except, it would seem, an original addition to the legacy.

 

Sarah Griffin

16 (See IFCO for details)

102 minutes

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For is released 25th August

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For –  Official Website

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Cinema Review: Don Jon

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DIR/WRI: Joseph Gordon-Levitt  PRO: Ram Bergman   DOP: Thomas Kloss   ED: Lauren Zuckerman   MUS: Nathan Johnson DES: Meghan C. Rogers CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has enjoyed a great reputation as one of the most respected actors of this generation after his performances in films such as Brick, 50/50 and Inception. Now, one of American cinema’s brightest and most talented young faces has made the big transition to writing and directing. Don Jon, which he also stars in, is in fact his feature film directorial debut. But is that really what the draw of the film is? Let’s be honest, the thing that is most likely to attract people’s attentions is the fact that it is built around the concept of pornography and fits perfectly among the many other works representing American cinema’s childish fixation with sexual taboos. Unfortunately, there is no exception here. Childishness is once again the order of the day.

This is the story of a man whose friends call him Don Jon. He has earned his name through his reputation as a heartbreaker. Every night he goes out to a club, he brings a girl back to his flat. Yet, no matter how much sex he has in the course of a week, he still cannot get over the fact that he simply finds pornography better than the real thing. In fact, his inability to enjoy real sexual encounters leads him to rush to the computer after each session to look for a clip that will really be able to get him off.

In its best moments, Don Jon resembles the earlier works of Martin Scorsese. This is not only because its stints at black comedy seem to be on the same humorous wavelength as The King of Comedy, but also because of its representation of religion as a source of purifying source of penance and guilt. This is something Scorsese has always been concerned with, and shows prominently in the character of Jon who confesses his sin every week and recites his prayers as he works out.

We could also draw parallels between Jon and Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver or a mixture of Charlie and Johnny Boy from Mean Streets, yet more than anyone else he seems to resemble this generation’s version of Tony Manero. He is a heartbreaker after all, and while he does not dance, he seems to have an incredible magnetic charm that he uses to easily attract the opposite sex. However, much like Saturday Night Fever’s central figure, Jon has found his match with a girl who apparently loves to drive him crazy. Barbara becomes his ultimate object of desire. Scarlett Johansson, featured here in one of her most fun roles, plays this devilish temptress. Her irresistible beauty fits the femme fatale description perfectly and her lively fun performance is among the best things in the film.

The film does have its fair share of one-liners and funny gags. What it simply lacks is a rewarding depth of any kind. The film not only lacks the tension of the aforementioned films by Scorsese and the painful honesty of Shame by Steve McQueen, but even the tenderness of a romantic comedy like The 40 Year Old Virgin. On top of that, it is never quite certain whether the lead character’s obsession with porn is that unhealthy – neither does he ever really feel like he is spiritually troubled by it. His confessions are as casual as routine check-ups to the doctor.

Even the characters seem to be all too detached from reality. It’s tiring to see yet another film that chooses to ignore the times’ financial condition, and it is all too easy to once again overlook the fact that there is no way Jon can afford to live an easy life in his own apartment apparently working as a bartender and studying in college. Even Esther, a troubled but positive older woman who attends the same course as Jon and for some unknown reason wants to become his friend, brings little believable emotional depth to the table despite Julianne Moore’s good-natured performance. Incidentally, Moore is also among the only main actors in the film who is not forcing an accent…

Don Jon is quite simply a well-packaged comedy, which predictably develops into a conventionally structured film. It is a cartoonish representation of reality, perhaps as genuine as the porn clips the lead character adores. Even the style of the film is over zealous and its uses of flash frames and slow motion are part of a tried and tested suit that has been worn repeatedly. The screenplay is not very impressive either. Its conclusions are bigoted and its characters nothing short of stereotypical. Of course, there is room to grow, and even Don Jon has interesting elements that show Gordon-Levitt has potential talent behind the camera. Perhaps all he has to be is more daring rather than simply provocative.

Matt Micucci

18  (See IFCO for details)

90 mins

Don Jon is released on 15th November 2013

 

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BFI London Film Festival: ‘Abuse of Weakness’ & ‘Don Jon’

Matt Micucci checks out Catherine Breillat’s latest, ‘Abuse of Weakness’ and ‘Don Jon’, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s feature film debut, which screened at the 56th BFI London Film Festival

 

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Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat)

Catherine Breillat gets more personal than she has ever been in her entire career in her latest film Abuse of Weakness. The story is almost entirely autobiographical, and one of the only things that are changed are the names.

Maud is a director who suffers a stroke. As she is recovering, she watches a con artist being interviewed on television and starts entertaining the idea of casting him in the lead part of her new film project. Soon enough the two become acquainted and she finds herself willingly loaning him large sums of money.

Despite the nature of the story, Breillat is neither spiteful nor vengeful in her telling of the events. In fact, she even points to the fact that she might have had it coming. Nevertheless, she seems to be entirely focused on making the whole story seem very authentic and avoids stylistic embellishments. Breillat also avoids her characteristic strange casting antics by giving the  role of her cinematic alter ego to one of the best French actresses of the last twenty years, Isabelle Huppert. Her performance as the proud yet vulnerable Maud is quite remarkable, particularly due to the role’s physically demanding nature. The same cannot be said about Kool Shen, the French rapper who lacks the ability to make the con artist seem a charmer or a rogue. The two end up lacking chemistry and this makes the film drag particularly in its seemingly interminable middle part.

However, Breillat can still be praised for her honesty and for bringing her own personal experiences on the big screen, coming close to a documentary style and unafraid of seeming uncomfortable.

 

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Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Gordon-Levitt, one of the brightest stars of this generation of American cinema, has made the transition in his feature film debut as director and screenwriter. Don Jon is the story of a guy who, despite his womanising streak, still loves porn better than real sex.

Apparently influenced by early Scorsese films and Saturday Night Fever, Don Jon plays around with interesting elements – among them even the theme of religion. Yet, despite the premise, this is hardly a compelling examination of modern society but rather a nicely packaged romantic comedy with a childish obsession for sexual taboos. Furthermore, its nature is quite bigoted.

Scarlett Johansson in her turn as the titular character’s object of desire delivers a fun and vibrant performance and is among the best things in the film. However, Don Jon can’t help but feel disappointing, most of all for being provocative rather than daring and for using an approach as realistic as the clips that its lead character obsesses over.

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Cinema Review: Lincoln

 

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Tony Kushner • PRO: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • DES: J. Rick Carter • CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

 

A film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg about an American president. If ever a film had Oscars written all over it, Lincoln is that film. And yet, for its epic scale and grand storytelling, Lincoln is just that – a story about Abraham Lincoln himself. Set during his final months of life, it focuses on Lincoln’s attempts to get the Thirteenth Amendment – the abolition of slavery – and to find a peaceful end to the American Civil War. Considering this is the first large-scale film about the life of Abraham Lincoln, a near-messianic figure in American politics, it’s clear that Spielberg and Day-Lewis are taking this very, very seriously.

 

Daniel Day-Lewis has never given anything less than 100% in any of the characters he’s played. Indeed, he’s a by-word for method acting and complete immersion in a role. Going in, you’d expect Day-Lewis to be all Oscar-reel footage – thundering and bellowing high-language maxims about the American way and so forth. Not so. Here, Day-Lewis has imbued Lincoln with a sense of decency, honesty and complete sincerity. Forwarding his argument with parables and anecdotes – often humorous – Day-Lewis’ Lincoln draws your attention with quiet charm and dignity. There is never a moment when you are not acutely aware of why Lincoln was so beloved. Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln is one of reservedness and small intricacies which make the character seem ever more real. Although the film is a biopic, the supporting cast are never lost in Day-Lewis’ shadow. The trio of political advisors hired to procure the votes for the Amendment – James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson – give the film a much-needed comedic pressure release without seeming forced. Spader comes to the fore as a swaggering Southern lobbyist who finds him brow-beating, cajoling and bribing his way through the political process. David Strathairn, Jared Harris and Jackie Earle Haley fill out smaller roles, but each give their performance the full weight. Jared Harris, in particular, as Ulysses S. Grant has a very small role in the film with minimal dialogue – but his physical presence on-screen very nearly takes the focus from Day-Lewis.

 

The same can be said for Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the “radical” Republicans whom Lincoln finds himself at odds with. Jones gives his most animated performance in years as he spars in debate with Lee Pace’s out-and-out villain, Fernando Wood. Sally Field, playing Lincoln’s wife, balances against Lincoln’s stoic nature. In one particular scene, Lincoln comes close to tears as the two of them argue over their son’s enlistment in the Army. Field, in one single scene, reminds us why she won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, is the only stumbling block of the film’s impressive cast and performances. Playing the role of Lincoln’s son, Robert, Gordon-Levitt manfully tries to equal Day-Lewis in their scenes together, however their on-screen relationship comes off as flat and doesn’t materialise as well as others. It’s a small complaint as Gordon-Levitt has minimal screen time and the rest of the performances of the film are nothing short of exemplary.

 

Spielberg skilfully directs Lincoln and gives each segment its due and proper attention, without lingering too long on any one plot point. The film has the brisk pace of a West Wing episode and manages to capture the political process in a somewhat idealised light. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, as always, is incredible. Each scene could easily be mistaken for an oil painting, both in terms of lighting design, set design and the colour tones used. Tony Kushner’s script is careful not to slip into drawn-out set pieces. As mentioned, the film never sags or loses a sense of pace, despite its impressive running length. John Williams’ score, naturally, adds to the grandeur of the whole film without being overbearing – as is often an issue with his work. Here, it’s understated and nuanced, much like Day-Lewis’ fantastic performance. In all, Lincoln is a smart, well-paced historical drama that is deserving of its accolades. Day-Lewis delivers a career highlight and Spielberg continues to demonstrate why he is one of the best directors in American cinema.

Brian Lloyd

 

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

151 mins

Lincoln is released on 25th January 2013

Lincoln – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Looper

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DIR/WRI: Rian Johnson  PRO: Ram Bergman, James D. Stern   DOP: Steve Yedlin  ED: Bob Ducsay Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels

We are long overdue a great time travel adventure. Sure, we’ve had dramas such as Midnight in Paris and mind-bending thrillers such as Primer, but there hasn’t been a proper edge-of-your-seat time travel movie since 12 Monkeys, nor a fun one since the Back to the Future trilogy.

Thank goodness for Looper. Clever without being baffling, fun without being silly, Rian Johnson’s film balances its own mythology with a pulp thriller story that feels simultaneously classical and entirely new. Johnson, the writer/director of cult high school noir Brick and the seen-by-few (and liked by fewer) The Brother’s Bloom, is a film fan’s filmmaker, a man who has imbibed the Hollywood genre greats, and who now pours those ideas through the blender of his brain and creates some fascinating, if hitherto not entirely successful chimaeras. Looper’s influences are evident and many, and surprisingly none of them are films about time travel.

Starting off 30 years from now in Kansas City, Looper is set in an America wracked with colossal rates of unemployment and homelessness, but where the well-to-do dress like guest stars on Mad Men. A comment on the trajectory of modern America, sure, but that’s where the social commentary ends. Another 30 years down the road, in 2072, time travel technology has been developed, but only for use by the wealthiest and most duplicitous of people. Rather than risk a Back to the Future-style paradox, the global mob of 2072 uses time travel for the sole purpose of disposing of corpses – easily tracked in the future, easily gotten rid of in the past.

In 2042, mob goons called loopers are assigned the task of gunning down newly materialised mob targets the moment they appear from 2072. It’s good work if you can get it, but it comes at a high price. Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is happy with his lot; splashing his cash on cars, drugs and a prostitute with a heart of gold. But things get thrown for a loop for him (sorry) when his latest target is revealed to be himself, 30-years-older, and now looking like Bruce Willis. Willis knocks his young self out and goes on the run, set on a mission to alter the future, while Gordon-Levitt must track down his older, wilier self while evading his own bosses at looper HQ, who can instantly take out the elusive Willis by killing Gordon-Levitt, thereby erasing Willis from the timeline.

Ostensibly a chase movie through a neo noir future, Looper keeps its story energised by keeping the time travel repercussions as simple as possible. As long as Willis is still there, he knows Gordon-Levitt will grow up to be him. As Gordon-Levitt acquires fresh cuts and injuries, Willis develops brand new, decades-old scars.

Looper is as smart in its dialogue as it is in its ideas. Gordon-Levitt and Willis spar over their shared memories in the film’s most cleverly crafted scene. Looper boss Abe (a delightfully sneering Jeff Daniels) chastises his young employees for dressing in suits and ties, an out-dated fashion now brought back by the Mod-like gangsters – fashion has a cyclical nature, underscoring the film’s central theme. Language, too, has come full circle; the word ‘blunderbuss’ has been uprooted from the history books to refer to the loopers’ heavy-duty shotguns.

Johnson’s team have crafted a terrific thriller here, with crisp, bright imagery and coherent editing. The score hums and clicks with electronic, industrial sounds overlaying traditional instruments. Gordon-Levitt, belatedly (by a decade) the in-demand actor of the hour, is tough yet endearing in the lead role, and the fine makeup that makes him a believable antecedent to Bruce Willis (most notably wearing Willis’ curling nose) never distracts from his performance. Willis plays the weary, broken-hearted avenger he’s based the last decade of his career on with expected fluency. Only Johnson regular Noah Segan disappoints, in the underdeveloped role of token villain Kid Blue.

The film’s seemingly boundless energy comes to a crashing halt in the third act as Willis heads off on his mission and Gordon-Levitt hides out at the rural home of Emily Blunt’s suspicious Sara. The rhythm of the film goes all to hell for nearly 20 minutes, and the temptation to, like the characters in the movie, repeatedly glimpse at your watch is hard to resist. But this is all forgiven in a shocking, brilliantly conceived final quarter hour, that is as exciting as it is philosophical.

Aside from that late lull, the film’s most troubling aspect is its narration, lazily used to explain its mythology and technology, and it’s left unclear from where or when (or on what timeline) Gordon-Levitt is narrating. But Looper succeeds in making its world easily accessible, and more impressively manages to make its two anti-heroes – one a junkie out to kill his future self, the other so hell-bent on vengeance he will stop at nothing to do what he insists is right – likeable and worthy of our attention.

With echoes to films as eclectic as Witness and Akira and with a finale drawing on the magnificent climax of the supposedly inimitable Russian classic Come and See, Looper is a minor triumph of genre-bending entertainment.

David Neary

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
118mins

Looper is released on 28th September 2012

Looper –  Official website

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