“Loopers are well paid, they lead a good life…”
2012 was such an incredibly congested year for show-stealing franchise instalments, it was almost inevitable that a really great film could easily fly under the radar. Looper is a case in point. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, who up to now was relatively unknown, the film is oozing originality to the point where its relative anonymity lends it a possible future as a truly cult film.
The first half of the film follows the life of Joe, a looper residing in 2044 who executes people the moment they are sent back in time from 2074, in which time they are apparently very difficult to eliminate. Loopers are employed by the only outfit with the money and incentive to utilise what is such a dangerous and expensive piece of equipment, the mob. They are paid handsomely, but once their contract is up, their older self is sent back for them to kill. They have a lucrative pay-off, but must live out the next thirty years knowing when, and how, they will kick the bucket. Inevitably, when Joe’s older self appears and finds a way to cut loose, all hell breaks loose.
There is a brooding, film-noir feel about the first half of the film that gives the talented Levitt a platform to really shine, as he indulges in drugs, women and rubs against Abe, the movie villain, played by Jeff Daniels. The transition from young Joe to old is made even more enjoyable and believable by the idiosyncratic mimicry between the two actors. The sly and crooked smile, so ubiquitous with Willis’ acting style feels authentic on Levitt, even to the point where it genuinely seems like it is the character’s trait, and not the older actor’s.
The latter stages of the film, without spoiling too much, juxtaposes Joe’s obsession with finding his older self and discovering his story, alongside the older Joe’s determination to find and kill the boy who would become responsible for his wife’s death. At this point we are introduced to Pierce Gagnon, who practically steals the show with his vivid emotion and intense portrayal. Although the ending is slightly predictable, and the style of the second half feels somewhat detached from the darker and more polished scenes at the beginning, most ‘loops’ are tied up, and considering its ambitious plot, Rian Johnson does a marvellous job of keeping the action flowing and the plot tied together.
The lines drawn between heroes and villains is the most intelligent aspect of this film. Although in some respects Abe, played by Daniels, is the lead villain, he is a disappointing nemesis and cannot be enough to substantiate the film. Instead, one must look between the lines and under the layers to find the true antagonists. Apart from the obvious villain, the Rainmaker, Joe himself becomes a threat because he has fundamentally changed when he returns from the future. This is because his motives and desires are driven by emotions not yet felt by our young protagonist. Even to the point where it could be successfully argued that the character becomes both hero and villain simultaneously. It is these layers that give Looper its depth and it can be watched again and again, revealing a different aspect with every turn. In other words, there is more to this film than first meets the eye, and despite paradoxes and the odd continuity error, Looper is fresh and different in world of unoriginality.
Shapstik Verdict: It isn’t perfect and grossed only a modest 176 million at the box office due to its lack of hype and attachment to the big franchise instalments of 2012. But if these were not ingredients for a future cult-classic then I do not know what are. Throw in some classy performances and a director with a clear feel for the science-fiction genre, and what you have is a film that many may have missed through the fog of disappointment created by the bloated and over-hyped sequels. 8/10