Writer-director Rian Johnson's 2005 debut feature 'Brick' delivered a fantastically unique homage to film noir. For his third feature, 'Looper', Johnson again teams up with 'Brick' lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The resulting time-travel based action film is engaging from the outset but ultimately fails to emotionally connect in the way it intends to.
The year is 2044. America is in something of a state of disarray, with social and economic problems at its forefront. Thirty years on, time travel is invented and immediately outlawed. Its only users are crime organisations, who use time travel to more easily rid them of their enemies - sending them back to 2044 to be disposed of by "loopers", a select group of assassins.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such Looper, living a high life (in more than one sense, considering his drug taking) in 2044. Joe soon finds himself having to "close his loop" - his future self being sent back to his time to be assassinated, with a suitably golden redundancy payment for the next/last thirty years of his life. The problem for young Joe is that old Joe (Bruce Willis) escapes - causing the mob to chase the both of them.
Both Joes become driven for different reasons - young Joe, in his desperate quest to kill his older self, and old Joe in his redemptive efforts to eliminate The Rainmaker, a "holy terror" in the future. Cue a bounty of influences and references including the 'Terminator' series, '12 Monkeys', 'La Jetée', and so on.
One of the most striking initial aspects of 'Looper' is Gordon-Levitt's face - modified by prosthetics and make-up to emulate a younger Bruce Willis. While it is distracting to begin with - especially his icy blue contact lenses - soon, it becomes an afterthought. A compliment to Johnson's ability to immerse the viewer into his carefully constructed worlds, as well as the ever impressive abilities of Gordon-Levitt.
As a genre film, 'Looper arguably is not constrained by the mechanics of time travel, nor does it concern itself with the ensuing ideas. Not to say that it doesn't lead to certain questions (and possible plot holes) but this fits into its nature as a consistently thought-provoking film - one of its primary questions, even at the end of the film, is truly who is the protagonist of the film.
Each scene is vividly shot, excellent work from cinematographer Steve Yedlin and the action sequences are handled well by Johnson - suggesting he could be a future leftfield blockbuster director, in much the same way Joss Whedon was as he took on 'The Avengers'. Arguably his best scene, however, surprisingly moves more into the horror genre as a character from the future slowly loses his body parts in a wholly unsettling manner.
'Looper' moves into slightly different territory as the film progresses, abandoning its primary time travel focus for another sci-fi trope, while introducing the new characters of Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). The latter being quite probably the most ominous looking child on screen since 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'.
The themes of the film begin to develop as a result, questions of morality and the parallels of the characters' lives become more apparent, while still retaining the good old time travel element of ambiguity throughout. Unfortunately, the film's finale does not quite deliver the emotional punch it intends to - perhaps due to the hanging questions of morality. Yet 'Looper' remains a stylish action-thriller.
'Looper' is out now in UK cinemas, through Entertainment One.