Monday, 24 September 2012

Looper (*****)

Looper might just be the best time travel picture since Back to the Future. It is the year's best and purest science-fiction release, not in 3D, not based on previous material; just built on story and some nifty makeup.

We’re in Kansas, 2044. A decrepit, lawless world where kids are blown away on the street, trying to steal something to eat from their fellow citizens. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a ‘Looper’, an assassin who murders and incinerates victims who have been sent back from 30 years in the future. It’s an elegant piece of action from which the time-travel conundrums unfold. Shady crime syndicate cannot dispose of bodies in 2074. Shady crime syndicate sticks a hood over their enemies head. Using outlawed technology they send him back 30 years with a bounty strapped to his body. The very second he arrives your looper is waiting to end him with a shot-gun blast and collect the spoils.

A nice little earner for bachelor Joe, until he comes face to face with his next mark - his own future self, played by Bruce Willis. Pause. You see the syndicate want to erase knowledge of all this in their timeline (2074, keep up), effectively giving all their loopers one final payoff and a life sentence of 30 years, ‘closing their loop’. Confused? If you are, it is probably my fault and you should get on with booking tickets; writer/director Rian Johnson will take you through it in great style.

What you get is a movie that teases out its concept into new and interesting directions, without getting bogged down in exposition. Looper riffs on fate and inevitability without ever getting heavy. The Bruce Willis factor helps. Bruce is at his most Bruce Willisy, (smirk, clothing, lashings of ultraviolence), in a supporting role that is much lighter than the similarly themed 12 Monkeys. And one of the joys here is seeing Joseph G-L with a Willis make-over, including eye-brows, nose, lips and apparently three hours of prosthetics as the actors didn't really look alike. He's spot on with the older man's drawl and the kind of gait which suggests he's pissed off with every person, every room he walks into.

It is the paradox that caused Marty McFly so much grief, what happens if you meet your time-travelling self? They have lots of fun with it and just when you think science and the rules of the situation might be a problem, old Joe tells his younger self, "I don't want to talk about time travel shit," bullet dodged for the writers. Jeff Daniels also shows up to prove that casting softly spoken actors from weepie dramas as hammer wielding crime bosses, tends to work.

And just when you reckon you've got Looper sussed, Emily Blunt arrives as a feisty farmer with problems of her own, a strand of the story best left for discovery.

Director Rian Johnson marked his card with the arch and over stylised, Brick back in 2005, which gave Levitt the role that set him on the path to today's hugeness. This is a much tighter film although it retains Johnson's ear for retro lingo, gatts and blunderbusses are the weapons of choice. Casting Willis, who is an icon on his own, our schlubby John Wayne, and because the story is emotionally satisfying as well as smart, Looper knocks it out the park, as unashamed sci-fi. You'll be looped back to the start for second and third viewings.

Looper is out 28 September 2012.

Worth booking a babysitter for: YES.

In a nutshell: Twelve Monkeys meets Run Lola Run.

Deets: Starring - Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels. Run time - 118 mins.

See also: Source Code, Things to do in Denver when you're dead

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