Looper (2012) 2.52/5 (3)


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Rating: The Bad – 59.3
Genre: Science Fiction, Crime
Duration: 119 mins
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

The first 50 minutes of Looper is the Holy Grail for sci-fi fans who grew up in the 1980’s. The distilled essence of all the classics from that era reformulated into an original package built around a robust futuristic concept, colourful characters, liberal/action friendly understandings of physics, and an accessibly clever plot. In other words, Looper was shaping up to be a veritable throwback to the heyday of the sci-fi thriller but with a new and fresh appeal and none of the familiarity a couple of dozen rewatches gives rise to. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a hit-man in the year 2044 who disposes of mob victims sent back in time from 2074 when hiding bodies has become impossible. When his next victim turns out to be his future self, he hesitates and lets the older Bruce Willis version of himself escape, thereby making him a target for his present day boss and intermediary with the future-based mob, one Jeff Daniels.

Up until this point, Looper is a pitch perfect execution of 1980’s sci-fi principles and it’s simply electric to behold. The dystopian society of 2044 is richly drawn according to contained visual and conceptual premises and writer-director Rian Johnson’s combination of lighting and modest set design gives it a dizzying quality. Sure, it’s no Blade Runner or even RoboCop but it’s every bit as substantial and established as something like Total Recall (the original of course). Just as important is its use of certain devices which imbue the audience with an unfamiliar and deeply uncomfortable horror. This immediately makes the world alien to the audience and thus authenticates it as a desolate vision of the future. All the great sci-fi’s have such devices from the mutants of Total Recall, Baron Harkonnen’s mandatory heart plugs in Dune, to the wanton savagery of Murphy’s murder in RoboCop. In fact, one could argue that Looper’s glimpse of the future’s horror is more intricately tied in with its premise and therefore dually effective.

Reinforcing these conceptual elements is the terrific performances and indeed the writing behind each of the characters. Jeff Daniels promises to be as untrustworthy and nerve inducing as any sci-fi villain, Noah Segen is the crazed loose cannon mobster who hates Levitt and is destined to get involved in a grudge pursuit. Gordon-Levitt is sinister and stained by the depravity of the future even if the digital melding of his and Willis’ face is distracting and wholly ineffective in making him look like a younger Bruce Willis. His impersonated mannerisms are bang on the money though and whet the appetite for the real thing.

Unfortunately, when Willis does show up it coincides with the total deflation of the movie as the plot changes dramatically around possible telekinetic powers that future mutants are born with and a race against time to destroy a super mutant who will grow up to be some kind of super villain. Huh???!!! Sounds like this review just skipped into the review of a different film, right? Well that’s exactly how it feels too. What’s more, the fact that this “new film” is far less intriguing and exciting just makes the whole stupid exercise all the more infuriating. You had your film!! Hit-man of a dark and compelling future locked in a deadly pursuit with his future self against the backdrop of some murky motives of a sinister mobster. What the hell are you doing walking away from it? And for this piece of drivel?

It’s impossible to properly describe the sense of disappointment and deflation that comes with the realisation that the early stages to Looper will not be concluded in a manner befitting the great sci-fi thrillers which it was definitely shaping up to be. It would’ve been like Doug Quaid taking control of his flight to Mars and heading to Saturn to fight some blob monster instead. Or RoboCop forgoing his plans to bring Ronny Cox & Kurtwood Smith to justice not to mention the heel of his vengeance and head off to New York to crack a insider trading case instead.

Writer-director Rian Johnson is entirely to blame here. It was his job to see the value of a contained story and the perils of an incontinent one. It was his job to realise that restraint is the ultimate confirmation of directorial intelligence not flashiness. He tried to be “too smart” and in doing so he acted dumbly crafting a jabbering and painfully earnest story of self-sacrifice not to mention a contrite one. In time, he may prove that discipline is something that can be learnt. Brick and the first act of Looper shows us he has talent. But in the meantime he deprived us of something that, as the years go by, feels like we’re never going to get again. A science fiction thriller designed to thrill and entertain as opposed to make the director look like a genius to a newer generation of teenagers more practiced at being manipulated and flattered into praising pretentiousness. Looper is just about worth seeing if only for those earlier segments but if you really love proper sci-fi, be prepared to scratch your head and pull on your hair for the last 60 minutes.

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