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Looper (2012)
Director: Rian Johnson

review by J.C. Hartley
Spoiler alert!
"This time-travel crap just fries your brain like an egg," says Abe (Jeff Daniels, Timescape), sent back from the future to oversee the gangland slayings of the Loopers. Old Joe (Bruce Willis), the once and future Looper on the run, says something similar when he meets his younger self in a diner. So the film sidesteps some of the issues of time-travel which, if the film was less enjoyable and less successful on its own terms, would create a plot-hole so big you could lose the USS Cygnus in it.

There is a tendency now for films of this nature to come with voiceovers to explain the central plot conceits. Exposition is a difficult thing, we've all read novels where a character takes a couple of pages to fill in narrative history, 'As you know...' they say, before launching into a lengthy backstory. Surtitles and voiceovers may save a lot of time, but I still feel that writers should at least attempt exposition in a natural way within narrative dialogue. So young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) fills in with a voiceover at the beginning of the film and at some point later on.

Time-travel has been invented in the future and immediately banned. Consequently it has been appropriated by the criminal underworld, using it for the pretty crap purpose of disposing of dead bodies; haven't they seen Time Bandits? Victims marked for slaying are loaded with silver ingots and sent back to the future of 2044 where they are bumped off by the Loopers. Ultimately, the Loopers themselves are the victims, closing the Loop is where the future Looper is sent back to be assassinated by his younger self, the latter then gets a golden payday and 30 years to do as he will before his loop is closed.

Some returning Loopers manage to go on the run, usually when their younger selves encounter some metaphysical crisis and cannot close the loop. One of Joe's friends goes through this and we see the ruthless, not to say surgical, manner in which the loop is eventually closed. Joe betrays his friend to Abe; we are left in no doubt as to Joe's own ruthlessness and well-developed sense of self-preservation. Another thing about this future world is that a small percentage of the population has developed telekinetic powers, but the gift is in its early stage; they use it to juggle dimes. This will be important later.

We see Joe wasting his loops, and wasting his time; doing drugs, screwing. Abe rails against his troops, and their sense of borrowed style, somewhat referencing John Woo's yakuzas in their long coats and leather, although there is more than a little of Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter, and Branded To Kill, about them, particularly in accident-prone Gat-Man Kid Blue (Noah Segan).

Then Joe comes face-to-face with himself, Old Joe arrives back to be killed, gets the better of his younger self and goes on the lam. This is a film of two halves, and a brief bridging device links the two parts. We see young Joe close his loop, take his money, and run. We see him waste his gold and turn back to violent crime in Asia, we see him meet a woman after a bar-room brawl and we see him saved. The two Joes meet up and Old Joe explains his mission. The woman who he loves has been killed while the future gangsters set about closing Joe's loop.

All the loops are being closed on the orders of a feared future gang boss known as the Rainmaker. Joe has come into possession of information pointing to the Rainmaker's birth; one of three children born on the same day will grow up to be this nemesis. With the same disregard for causality shown by the rest of the narrative, Joe has returned to take care of business, murder the infants and ensure the survival of his eventual bride. Clearly none of this makes any sense even on the film's own fragile premise. Ray Bradbury would have had a fit; has no one around this picture read A Sound Of Thunder? Doesn't matter; go with it.

The two Joes fight, young Joe still believes he can close his loop and win his way back in with Abe and the gang. In their confrontation, young Joe acquires information about one of Old Joe's Rainmaker suspects. While Old Joe takes care of two of the children, young Joe goes to protect the third, a strange child shacked up with his mother (the ever more excellent Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau) on a sugar beet plantation.

Despite an over-the-top sequence, which looks like an Expendables out-take, in which Old Joe goes on an automatic weapons rampage at gang HQ in an attempt to clear a path for his younger self, the film continues to grip and intrigue right up to its inevitable but satisfying conclusion. For all its flaws, this is a commendable and thoroughly enjoyable SF thriller with a great look and just enough intelligence among the shoot-em-ups to win its rating.

Looper blu-ray

Looper poster

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