Rian Johnson's Looper arrives with much fanfare -- hot off its opening night slot at this year's Toronto Film Festival where it played to fan boy and critical acclaim -- touted as the sci-fi film of the year.
That it is, for mine, is by default rather than actuality: as good as it is, and at its best it is quite audacious, Looper treads familiar time travel territory; owing a great debt to many a film, and none more so than James Cameron's Terminator.
Note: Looper is a difficult film to review or discuss lest anything you say be construed as a spoiler: it's one of those times you should go in cold, of course that's nigh on impossible in this day and age. What proceeds may or may not be spoiler-ish, so read on at your own discretion.
In 2072, time travel is a possibility. It is also illegal, and like any illegal activity it is co-opted by organised crime for nefarious purposes. Part of that purpose (I think?) is the laundering of gold and silver bullion which is trasported back through time to 2042 where the (unwilling) couriers who carry it -- hooded and cuffed -- are killed by awaiting gunmen, known as loopers.(Body disposal is also impossible in the future, so the crims are killing two birds with one stone.)
The loopers take out these future couriers almost the second upon arrival: they are swift, cold, efficient. And Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the best. He knows the score and how to keep his nose clean; practising his French for a trip he has promised himself once he has saved enough money and completed his employment: loopers' contracts are terminated when they literally terminate themselves. Their future selves that is; sending the looper's older self back from the future to be executed "closes the loop".
Although as anyone with a passing interest in sci-fi knows, time is anything but cyclical, and when Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) arrives, uncuffed and unmasked, he takes young Joe (some will find the alteration of Gordon-Levitt's face to more closely resemble Willis a tad distracting) by surprise; escaping into the city and sending time -- not too mention young Joe's employment and life in general -- into a state of flux.
For old Joe is on a mission: having just lost his wife (Quing Xu), he's come back to end the reign of the 2072 crime lord (known only as the Rainmaker) responsible for her death by ending the kingpin's life before it's barely begun. This is the darkest element of Johnson's film -- the killing of children -- and where it does more than merely tip its hat to Terminator.
But where Schwarzenegger's cyborg travelled back in time to kill the leader of the resistance movement who brought hope to the humans in their war against the machines, Willis's Joe has come to kill a little boy who will one day rule the criminal underworld with ruthless efficiency.
Looper raises one of those age-old time travel questions: if you could go back in time and kill someone to prevent a greater atrocity (e.g. kill Hitler as a child thus preventing the Holocaust), would you? And more importantly, could you? It's admittedly disconcerting to see Willis, so long a good guy action hero, hunting down four-year old boys and unwavering in his determination to terminate. He's no cyborg but his mission is clear cut.
Young Joe's mission is originally to track down and terminate his older self, and to try and appease his employers (headed by a scruffy but not inelegant Jeff Daniels) in the process. But stumbling upon a farmhouse during his escape, where the injured looper is tended to by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), Joe inadvertently stumbles upon old Joe's mission and its inevitable end point.
While a much more tightly constructed sci-fi film than last year's Source Code, the latter film had more of an emotional impact for me. Looper raises moral and ethical questions but in spite of the performances (Gordon-Levitt gives good Willis, and this is one of Blunt's best), Johnson's film is more a cerebral exercise; lingering in the mind (if not the heart) after first punching you in the gut.