Like a lot of men afflicted by male pattern baldness, I have a fondness for the work of Bruce Willis.
So Looper was two goals up before kickoff. If you don’t want to know the final result, look away now.
I loved it.
That’s not to say it was perfect. I’m afraid we’re going to have to talk about The Nose for a minute.
In order to get Joseph Gordon Levitt looking like Bruce circa Moonlighting, the Looper makeup team have gone to work on his nose quite a bit. The effect is, at best, distracting.
Audiences are co-operative enough, by and large. If you tell us that one actor is Bruce and the other actor is a young Bruce, we’ll just get on and believe it. We want the film to work as much as the people in makeup do.
I could still have believed the other actor was Young Bruce whatever he looked like. They could have put Ashton Kutcher in there and I’d have gone with it.
Instead they went with The Nose. That little rubber schnozz kept distracting me from one of the cleverest, most interesting sci-fi films I’ve seen since…I dunno…12 Monkeys and throwing me back out into immutable reality.
Still. The setup’s a corker. Assassins wait in 2042 for hogtied victims to be sent back 30 years by future gangsters for an undetectable hit. Given how badly we in the present treat people with mental health issues, sending someone from the future back to 2012 with no money and a cockamamie story about being from 2072 might be punishment enough. Shooting them in 2042’s just gilding it, frankly. Still, there you go.
Gordon-Levitt is Joe, an unskilled assassin in 2042. People show up in a field. He shoots them. Then he gets on with all the drinking and drug abuse and whatnot that 30 pieces of silver can buy. He knows that sooner or later he’ll be sent a future version of himself. That’s part of the deal.
The world of Looper is explained in a long voiceover in the first few minutes of the film. I’d have preferred it if writer/director Rian Johnson had found a way to show us, rather than tell us, this stuff. The only sensible opportunity to do that might have been a bit too late in the film for some people though, and at least the voiceover gets all that scene-setting over with early.
Yes, it’s puzzling why the future-mob don’t just send someone back to make a huge killing on the stock market or, for that matter, with a notebook full of winning lottery numbers. But I don’t make the rules. Rian Johnson does, and in terms of making the story move along he’s made some good and self-consistent ones.
Of course the mob’s neat, well-ordered execution system breaks down. And that’s when things get interesting.
One of the more pleasing script elements, for a time-travel obsessed weirdo like me, is the way that more than one character uses four-dimensional thinking to solve a problem. This isn’t one of those movies that sacrifices entertainment on the altar of scientific rigour, but it isn’t The Core either. In terms of smartness and entertainment, I’d put it somewhere in the region of the first two Terminator movies. Although it’s significantly below the first one in terms of body count.
There’s a reason why the main action is set in the 2040s, rather than right now. There’s an added wrinkle in the emergence of telekinesis among humans. A sort of X-Men angle. I thought it was a silly, unnecessary extra element when it first came up. I was wrong.
One of the other bits of science that I loved was the suggestion that each moment was a droplet of time in an ocean of possibilities. Every now and then we see these other possibilities. There are a couple of Sliding Doors moments where we see outcomes of more than one branch on the decision tree. It’s the sort of cleverness in a film that makes silly people like me feel clever, and I was pleased about that.
There’s an Urban Legend of cinema that, faced with Dustin Hoffman’s Method approach on Marathon Man, Lawrence Olivier said “Why not try acting dear boy? It’s much easier.”
That’s the irony of Gordon-Levitt’s performance. He doesn’t need The Nose. He’s excellent as a younger Willis. It’s not an impersonation exactly but there are some brilliantly-captured little tics and intonations that make you think of Bruce circa Die Hard. He also, at one point, plays gingerly with the hair at his temples. Like a man who was worried about his hairline might.
Wilis himself turns in a superb performance. He pulls off the running around and the shooting at people pretty well for a guy who’s nearly 60. When the script calls for him to reflect on the enormity of where his life as an assassin has led him, he’s utterly convincing at that too. Those movie assassins we like; Bond, Leon, Nikita, and..yes..The Terminator are often portrayed as killing machines. They’re the best there is at what they do, even if what they do best isn’t very nice. Older Joe has lived a terrible, dissipated life of violence. And it’s just got a whole lot worse. And Willis shows us that.
Emily Blunt shows up so late in the film that I almost forgot she was coming. It’s a good part though. And she’s good in it. To my British ears she has submerged her cut-glass RP tones in an entirely convincing American accent and she’s believable in the action scenes as well.
There’s some tricksy editing to point up the time travel / multiple possibilities theme, but there is one scene that appears to be missing altogether. Johnson leads us towards a natural climax at one point and moves on without delivering it. It’s discombobulating, and I guess on reflection a bit cool. It’s the kind of thing Miles Davis might have done if he used an edit suite instead of a trumpet.
In summation: If you like your sci-fi with a little bit of cleverness and thought the two James Cameron Terminator movies had the ideal balance of coherent, believable time travel and freewheeling blast-o-rama I think you’ll like this film.
The only negative in my book is The Nose. It’s not so much that it doesn’t make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis. It’s that it does make him look like a male Kelly Brook.