Most of the time, when reviewing films, I end up either sadly disappointed or incandescently angry. Truth be told, there are an awful lot of bad films around, and it’s hard to argue with Theodore Sturgeon’s “Sturgeon’s Law”in that:
“Ninety percent of everything is crap.“
It is, therefore, a doubly intense pleasure when a film like Looper comes along which is not only intelligent and complex, but actually genuinely good. And, after a year which gave us the resounding disappointment that was Prometheus, science-fiction cinema was in sore need of such a success.
Set in 2044 — and a little bit in 2074 — Looper follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); a looper. This means he kills people who future gangsters send back in time, and disposes of the bodies, in exchange for lots of money. Except, when he’s confronted with his future self (Bruce Willis) he hesitates just long enough to be overcome and let him escape. Cue a mad chase across Kansas (yes, Kansas), with young Joe trying to kill old Joe and complete the job, whilst his future self tries to find and kill a child (an excellent performance by unknown child actor Pierce Gagnon) who will become a ruthless mob boss in his time.
As you’d expect from a film centred around time-travel, it’s very complicated and it doesn’t take any prisoners. If you are not paying attention the whole way through, you will miss important details.
I’ll say this straight off too: the causality is not perfect. There are holes in it as a bigger picture, which do become apparent But what they don’t do is spoil the story. And that’s the important thing, that the science (ish) and the story work together, rather than feeling like they are competing forces pulling on the audience’s sense of believability.
It’s a fantastic piece of acting from Gordon-Levitt. He’s clearly studied Bruce Willis’ habits and mannerisms closely, as well as wearing make up (which does actually look a bit daft) and possibly a bit of digital manipulation. It’s an odd experience, but I found him as a younger version of Willis believable, when it could so easily have been the deal-breaker.
If there was a problem with it, then it was definitely the portrayal of women. Or, really, the lack of them. Grace Fletcher-Hackwood summed it up rather neatly over at LabourList, so I’m simply going to quote what she said:
“There were only three in the whole film, and they existed for the following purposes: one was a mother, another a prostitute and the third a wife/ministering angel.“
Which, frankly, is a problem. Admittedly the film focuses on two characters principally — who really are one character, when you think about it — but it feels like a very male film. To the point that I noticed it as fairly unrealistic whilst I was watching it.
But I have to take the film as it is, and aside from that hiccough I liked it a lot. The focus was on the characters and the effects of time travel, rather than how time travel is possible (it isn’t, so putting the actual time travel thirty years in the future was a neat idea), and the twists and sub-plots — including all of the red herrings scattered around for those of us trying to guess the conclusion midway through — were very impressive.
I’m trying to think of another time-travel film which handled it as well. Primer would be one, but that revelled too much in its own complexity to appeal beyond a hardcore fan base. This was different; it managed to play twin roles of heir to Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies” at the same time as the more commercial blockbuster in the style of Inception.
More like this please, Hollywood.