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Looper (AF)


Stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Summer Qing

Director: Rian Johnson

Describing writer-director Rian Johnson’s riveting time-travel science fiction thriller as ‘ingenious’ would be about as accurate as, say, calling Hamlet hilarious.

Johnson richly succeeds in developing a basic time travel paradox that asks 'are the past and the future immutable?' into a gripping story set in 2044 where time travel has yet to be invented. In 30 years time, however, it exists and, controlled by gangsters who, explains Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Use time travel to kill people – they zap their victim back to the past, where a hit man called a Looper, employed by the future gangsters, assassinates them and disposes of the body”.

Johnson stages these assassinations vividly, with hooded, bound victims – padded with the ingots that are the fee for their killing suddenly appearing in the field where Looper Gordon-Levitt ("This job doesn't tend to attract the most forward thinking people,") is waiting to blow them away, a job he clearly enjoys in spite of occasional run-ins with the gangsters’ sent-from-the-future ‘overseer’ Jeff Daniels (excellent). Until, that is, his older self, Bruce Willis, turns up to be killed and escapes, leaving Gordon-Levitt to hunt him down and do his job, in spite of the almost inevitable temporal screw-ups that could emerge…

It’s to the considerable credit of both Johnson and his actors that the dazzling story never sags. The highlight, for me at any rate, was when Gordon-Levitt and Willis face each other off in a small-town diner in a gripping scene that brilliantly revamps Jekyll and Hyde with added attractions. Their resemblance as younger and older versions of the same character is effectively achieved by creating a ‘new’, Willis-like version of Gordon-Levitt with the admirable use of prosthetic make-up. The extraordinarily linked couple then crosses paths again when Gordon-Levitt takes refuge at Emily Blunt’s farm…

Johnson clearly doesn’t waste a fortune on special effects. Nonetheless, Looper works perfectly in those scenes where he deploys movie magic - notably in a stunning, very effectively unexpected mass levitation in Blunt’s farmhouse. The dystopic 2044 future is grimy, grungy, grim and credible, his time machine works well (dramatically and visually) and generally the mise en scene is exactly what the story requires.

So, too, are the performances. Willis is top-billed and very good indeed, sly and dangerously likeable by turns, but Gordon-Levitt’s picture prefect performance steals the show. Blunt, too, is excellent with a credible American accent to underscore her sharp characterisation, as is her preternaturally gifted young son Pierce Gagnon, while Piper Perado makes the most of her (relatively) minor role.

Result? A smart and hugely entertaining time travel thriller whose ending vividly rounds off a dazzling show. Make time to see it.

Alan Frank

USA/China 2012. UK Distributor: Entertainment One. Colour by deluxe.
118 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 23 Sep 2012