Sunday, 14 October 2012

Fuzz Five | Things I Hate About Looper (spoilers)

I was looking forward to Looper enormously, combining, as it does, many of my favourite things in life (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Rian Johnson, Sci-Fi, Time Travel, the list goes on...), and I was really hoping it would be a film I would want to rewatch again and again. A film I would recommend to anyone and everyone. A film like Brick. A five star film.

It wasn't and I was disappointed. It was enjoyable, but not stunning; watchable but not mind-blowing. Rightly or wrongly, I was disappointed. I went home, and several days later, I wrote a list of things that disappointed me about the film. If you'll give me some leeway for having high expectations and with a healthy gap since I left the cinema, I'll give you: The reasons I wouldn't give Looper five stars:

The protagonist's relationship with himself

I like a lot about both Willis and Gordon-Levitt, and I like a lot about the way that they interact on screen in Looper. They have more chemistry than the average action twosome for the time that they are onscreen together. The problem is that they aren't a twosome. They're a onesome. There should be a whole set of fascinating mental challenges that come with simply having a conversation with a version of yourself from 30 years ago, that go beyond simply being more experienced and confident. Someone facing themselves would have a much stronger grasp of the hopes, dreams and insecurities of their opposition, and a conversation between the two of them should give a writer huge scope for an exchange unlike anything possible in a conventional film. Instead, it felt at times like Willis was simply Gordon-Levitt's father, berating a sulky teenager for a misspent youth, which I see as a missed opportunity.

The world

So, there's some sort of problem with criminal gangs, and drug taking and “vagrants”, and there seem to be both slum areas and ultra-modern apartments, but there's little or no attempt to weave that into a convincing narrative of society. Without a wider context, it's difficult to judge the relative danger the protagonist is in (are they running from a small criminal gang, who are themselves trying to stay out of sight, or do this gang “run the city”?) and also difficult to empathise with anyone, since their world feels completely disjointed from the viewer's.

The telekinesis

This is in some ways a follow-on from the above point. Why bring telekinesis into the story? It doesn't form a seamless part of the world that the movie is set in (if it was, wouldn't we occasionally see people using it to pass each other small objects?) and there's no attempt to go into the social repercussions of the emergence such a skill in any depth. It's almost as if it was a last minute addition that the filmmaker doesn't care about. That's not necessarily a killer blow to the film, but it is frustrating when such a major plot point revolves around something that feels like it has been inserted with little care.

The arbitrary action scene

In a film which largely manages to construct interesting, original set pieces, it is a real disappointment to me that the showdown between two time travelling criminals comes down to a sequence with Bruce Willis mowing down a parade of faceless goons with two ludicrous machine guns. I'd hope that anyone writing, producing or directing such a scene would question whether maybe an audience might have seen this before, in any of hundreds of other action films, and whether, perhaps, there was a more engaging way of getting rid of an entire organisation of gun toting gangsters that you inconveniently wrote into your story.

The time travel

This is the big one. If you're making a serious time travel movie, then that aspect of it has to make some sort of sense, and you have to make some effort to avoid paradoxes. To not do this is to instantly trade away any intellectual capital you've invested in crafting the rest of the plot.

So: As a time travel story teller, a decision needs to be made. Is the traveller moving backwards in his own timeline, or moving into a different timeline. If the latter, you can do whatever you like: He can change anything, but it will only have repercussions in the future of his new timeline. If the former, however, you have to be careful to avoid kill-your-grandfather type paradoxes. Looper chooses the former, but makes no attempt to avoid these paradoxes, instead appearing to revel in them. There were numerous bits that bothered me, mostly involving memories, or scars, but I'll stick to the simplest one: A man is butchered horribly in the present, to bring his future self into line. He then, apparently, ages thirty years, burdened by awful disabilities, is sent back in time to be killed, and somehow escapes from his younger self, despite not having legs.
I find it very difficult to fully enjoy a film where a filmmaker has produced a situation like that, which makes no logical sense at all, and leaves the viewer confused and frustrated. It smacks of laziness, carelessness or a lack of respect for the audience, none of which are things I expected from this movie.

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