I went to see Looper after a host of positive quotes on the promotional materials from publications I don’t tend to disbelieve (if something is only lauded by the like of Heat, Look or the Daily Star I know to give it a wide berth). One of the descriptions was along the lines of “The new Matrix.” It isn’t. It’s obviously cheaper and not trying to appeal to the same visceral impulses. It is, however, very good.
A “Looper” is an assassin who is hired to kill people who are sent back from the future. More than that, however, they are paid to dispose of the body. They do this for a future crime syndicate who have sent back a representative who oversees the actions in the (still future-) present day. Time travel, on discovery, is outlawed and is solely the purview of criminals. Everyone involved is a complex character without idealistic morality. It makes for a great backdrop and interesting protagonists. People act according to their perceived best interests, both at the current time and for their individual futures. Their actions have an internal logic but aren’t easily predictable.
When the protagonist is paid to kill his future self he accidentally fails to do so. His employers set about to capture his current self and kill his future self. To make things complicated he also sets out to kill his future self in order to redeem himself in their eyes. And his future self is following his own distinct agenda. There are lots of films that could provide touchstones: The Terminator movies trying to change or protect the future, Hitchcockian thrillers pitting the protagonist against the forces of both good and evil (although who the real hero of the film actually is could be a real debate) and more tricksy experiments into myriad possibilities coupled with unreliable narrators. The real success of the film is the fact it actually manages to create such a solid and comprehensible narrative: when you consider it there is an awful lot going on and things could have got very complicated.
Joseph Gordon-Levett has some very odd prosthetics attached to his face to try to make him look like a young Bruce Willis. It doesn’t quite work (the placing of his nose is too close to his lips) but it isn’t as far apart or as stupid as I expected. Both male leads are good, and their reasoning and actions appear logical. The cast is largely good, and there is a definite economy in the storytelling. There is one character who is arguably a little broadly defined as purely comic relief, but the other characters are rich and believable. They’re also believable and complicated, with their own secrets and arcs.
Looper isn’t perfect, but it has admirable scope and comes close to matching its ambitions. And it is very, very ambitious. It was far more than I expected. And also pleasantly different