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
In the not too distant future, time travel has been invented but is strictly outlawed. A rule obeyed by all except major crime syndicates who send their enemies, opponents and problems back to the past to be eliminated. The assassins in the present who carry out this dirty work are known as Loopers.
During a vivid opening sequence, various victims materialise in a remote cornfield to be immediately dispatched by a shotgun blast. The unquestioning trigger man is Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who accepts the illicit money involved and the inevitable Faustian pact where one day his future self will suffer the same fate.
It’s a nifty premise and Joe receives a salient lesson in the folly of showing mercy when a colleague Seth (Paul Dano) allows his future self escape. In a startling scene, the older Seth is fleeing when his body is remotely afflicted by torture being inflicted on his younger self. The nightmarish effect is truly memorable and also weirdly subtle being bereft of blood but full of horror.
Joe is quickly plunged into the exact same dilemma when his older self proves an elusive target as he arrives for execution. Basically outwitted by himself, young Joe must track down older Joe or suffer the wrath of his criminal master. Older Joe is played by Bruce Willis and the physical discrepancy between the two actors is literally bridged by prosthetic work to Gordon-Levitt’s nose and face as well as tweaking his eye colour to match Willis.
To the film credit this casting choice is probably the biggest leap an audience has to take in a rare film where style and substance are in perfect equilibrium. Johnson doesn’t oversell his vision of the future. He shies away from Bladerunner scale to deliver a slightly advanced but recognisable universe where the focus is rightly kept on the engrossing story.
The film drops slightly short of masterpiece status mostly due to the unsavoury nature of older Joe’s mission in the past which involves child murders. The intensity of the storytelling also fades somewhat when the action switches to a remote farm as Emily Blunt’s character is belatedly introduced. However, it rouses itself for a surprisingly emotive and vaguely positive ending where a sliver of hope emerges.
Naturally, the myriad of sci-fi antecedents and influences are obvious throughout with Willis’ presence in particular recalling the not overly dissimilar Twelve Monkeys. Still, Johnson has largely plotted his own distinctive path to create a sharp intelligent blockbuster. This is slick, smart and visually impressive stuff.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Looper is released on 28th September 2012