Saturday, 27 October 2012

Film Review | Looper (2012)

The best films about time travel are usually the films that aren't actually about time travel at all. Wait, let me try that again. What I mean is, if you're going to include time travel as a plot device in your film then make sure that the intricate workings of time travel aren't the main focus of the proceedings. Think about Back To The Future, Primer and, er, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Time travel should be there to facilitate the story rather than actually be the story. A two-hour dissection of how time travel is possible, along with what you can and can't do, will almost certainly fail to create a compelling piece of cinema. As long as the audience can buy into the way time travel works in your film, that's enough. Unfortunately, Looper doesn't quite manage this.

Looper is set primarily in 2044, where the USA has suffered economic collapse and crime is rife. Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a "looper" - a contract killer who murders and disposes of people sent back from the year 2074 when time travel has been invented, but is illegal and only used by the mob for criminal means. When the target sent back for Joe to kill is the older version of himself (Bruce Willis) and Joe fails to eradicate him, things get complicated for both versions of Joe.

As outlined by TheTelf in his analysis of Looper, the film is not without fault. Whilst some of the problems Telf has with the film I would only agree with to an extent, some of them are undeniable. The time travel element is flawed, and whilst it doesn't go as far as destroying the film, the inconsistencies and niggles are enough to detract a little too much from the film's overall impact.

The film also disappointingly falls into the trap of padding things out at a few key points by ramping up the mindless action and violence. Taking into account the more considered, cerebral nature of most of what is presented throughout the rest of the film, these sequences stick out in a negative way. Whilst it's fun to watch Bruce Willis brandish two oversized hand cannons and take out a plethora of anonymous bad guys, it just feels unnecessarily heavy-handed in a film written and directed by the same man who gave us the superbly understated Brick.

The flaws are there, but don't get me wrong: there is also a huge amount in Looper to enjoy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove why he is one of the most special young talents in cinema today. Even donning prominent prosthetic make-up throughout to make him a more believable young version of Willis, Gordon-Levitt's performance is superb, including just the right amount of Willis influence without ever slipping into mimicry or pastiche. Willis too is reliably excellent, with a performance reminiscent of that which he gave some seventeen years earlier in another time-travel-based story, Twelve Monkeys. The support is littered with strong performances from the likes of Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels, giving the cast a collective feel of quality and excellence.

The film also wears its sci-fi influences on its sleeve, with everything from The Terminator to X-Men being covertly referenced throughout. Never feeling like cheap fanboy fare or lazy copycatting, these only serve to add further credence and weight to Looper's plot and setting. The world which the characters inhabit has a pleasing gritty feel, and things such as the slightly advanced technology of the near-future are neatly handled.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Looper, but still left the film feeling slightly disappointed. As I said, there's a lot to enjoy here, and enjoy it I certainly did. But there's very little here that will stay with you on a deeper level, which is, when all is said and done, Looper's biggest flaw. With the wealth of talent both in front of and behind the camera, and one of the most original sc-fi concepts seen in years, this undoubtedly had the potential to be a ten-out-of-ten instant classic. As it stands, Looper is a great piece of cinema that will entertain more than most, but falls short of the cinematic perfection it feels like it could quite easily have been.


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