“Time travel hasn’t been invented, but 30 years from now, it will have been”. If you can get your head around the opening line, you’re off to a good start. There’s a trick to enjoying movies about time travel: pay attention, but don’t think about it too much. Never has that been truer than for Rian Johnson’s sprawling, mind-melting sci-fi noir – pop out for a quick toilet break, check your phone, or blink and you’ll be lost. Equally, spend too much time wrapping your head around the space-time continuum – trying to sort your plot-holes from your worm-holes – and your brain will implode. Demanding a lot more patience than your average late-summer blockbuster, stick with ‘Looper’ as it takes you back to the future (and back again) and you’ll be rewarded with one of the smartest, sharpest sci-fi’s in years.
When time travel is invented, it will be illegal. Cross the mob in 2072 and you’ll find yourself handcuffed, hooded and bundled into a time machine – whisked back thirty years to a sheet of plastic in an empty field to face the barrel of a shotgun. Back in 2042, the ‘Loopers’ are the hitmen whose job it is to wait in the right place at the right time, pull the trigger and dump the body. It might be a well-paid job, but the retirement package isn’t great. When your mob employers have had enough of you they give you the same treatment as your victims – sent back through time to be anonymously executed by your younger self. So far, so good. But things get very complicated, very quickly, when Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recognises his older-self (Bruce Willis), and hesitates. Kick starting a time-spanning cat and mouse chase, the two versions of Joe chase each other through the twisting, knotting story strands – tracking each other with the half-formed memories from their ever-changing past. By the time a side story with Emily Blunt and her bizarrely ‘gifted’ son gets thrown into the mix, it’s a pretty heady cocktail.
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Known for his cerebral, self-conscious indie movies, director Rian Johnson seems to have finally found his groove with a bigger budget. Just like the offbeat universe of his debut feature ‘Brick’, the retro-future world of ‘Looper’ looks and sounds like our own, with only a few misplaced oddities to throw it off kilter. Equal parts violent actioner, wry ‘Twilight Zone’ thriller and slow-burning film noir, Johnson straddles genres, styles and tones like a veteran.
Nose bridged to look like a distant member of the Willis family, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s nuanced performance nails the subtle inflections of pre-‘Die Hard’ era Bruce – never slipping over into parody or impersonation. The real Willis gets a few satisfying moments behind a machine gun, but otherwise delivers one of his most mature roles to date - with both leads doing service to Johnson’s now trademark switchblade dialogue.
Closer to ‘Twelve Monkeys’ than ‘Back To The Future’(and definitely more ‘Inception’ than ‘Bill And Ted’), the intricate workings of ‘Looper’ make for the smartest, darkest and most original blockbuster of the summer. A bona fide modern classic – if you don’t love it, you only have your future self to blame.
Out 28 September