Hooray for Hollywood – at least in Autumn, when the movies with actual plots and characters appear, and hooray for Rian Johnson’s smart time travel movie starring a prosthetically creepy Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. Set in two futuristic time frames, one thirty years ahead of the other, this involves victims sent back from the later time to the early to be eradicated by hit men (see, that’s one third of the potential audience gone right there), or as Bruce Willis puts it; ‘Don’t ask me to explain time travel or we’ll be sitting at the table making diagrams from drinking straws.’
The set-up is complex enough to warrant some voiceover but not impossible to follow – that’s Christopher Nolan’s area – and is deceptive. The trailers make ‘Looper’ appear to be about Gordon-Levitt having to assassinate Willis, his future self, but there’s a lot more going on, notably Blunt’s wild child-turned farmer protecting a special child, and the need to change the world of thirty years’ time. In Shanghai.
Johnson directed the smartarse college movie ‘Brick’ but this is smarter, and even though it asks you to take on board time travel, telekinesis, hit men and gang lords there’s enough truth in the characters to make you care. Design-wise, the future is an ugly extension of where we’re going now, the rich richer, the poor poorer, urban life harsh and uncaring, with some retro-fitting (blunderbusses, gold bars) blurred with as-yet uninvented devices (notably a rocket bike).
Jeff Daniels, formerly the go-to guy for weak creeps, now accesses his inner scumbag as the crime lord, and after a length pastoral break from the action Willis cocks a loaded jumbo-gun in a moment that will even have pacifists punching the air. Think ‘Children of Men’ crossed with ‘Twelve Monkeys’, and time travel paradoxes that will have you making diagrams with drinking straws, because if the actions that occur in the film really did happen they would have cancelled out the entire story, but there we go down the time travel path…
Less lo-fi than the fun time travel movies ‘Triangle’, Time Crimes’, the superb ‘The Door’ or the incomprehensible ‘Primer’, Johnson manages to stage great gritty action scenes without compromising wit or intelligence. It knocked me for a loop.