Looper Review: The Terminator has Carrie’s babies whilst Memento watches

First things first. This is a time-travel flick, and if you go into it unwilling to suspend your disbelief and decide to count paradoxes on your fingers, you’ll end up with more raised digits than a politician’s expenses form.

The story revolves around the titular gimmick, the Looper. A ‘Looper’ is basically the Terminator in reverse, a hitman from the present (which is 2044 in the film) who kills targets sent back in time from the future. Loopers are stylish and materialistic Brylcreem gangsters, with flash cars and leather jackets, and are paid for their ask-no-questions murders in silver bars attached to their bounty’s back, which they seem to spend the majority of on drugs, hookers and jet-bikes. The day they dread is the day that their “loop” is closed, and they receive a package of gold bars on a bounty (not Bounty bars on a goldie to clarify for those with dyslexia); a bounty that is in fact their older self. It’s also worth a mention that telekinesis (TK for you trendy street nerds) exists in 2044 at an early stage, and that people who have TK are generally dislikable tits. This mention at the start of the movie, of course, smells a little funky, and you’d be correct in thinking that it might have something large to do with the rest of the movie.

Looper

This film’s elements of conflict or peril are provided when Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is barely recognisable under heavy prosthetic make-up and a husky Bruce Willis impression, right royally bollockses up his final hit against his older self. After getting clonked in the face with a gold bar, he is left unconscious amongst a whole Kellogg’s-worth of corn, with the unenviable task of hunting down his fugitive older self whilst the mafia come after him to slice him into shredded wheat. Sorry, I’m a serial offender for cereal analogies, and this is a film with a lot of corn in it.

The vision of the future presented to us, particularly that of 2044, is very convincingly constructed through a mixture of real-world cityscapes and CGI, and is a genuinely believable 2044, reminiscent of post-collapse movies such as Children of Men, but with just enough cool technology to let us know not quite everything has gone down the shitter. On the high-tech side we have jet-bikes and transparent glass mobile phones, whilst on the low-tech side, old early-21st century cars drive about with fuel conversion equipment hosing out of their fuel tanks, suggesting a world after all the oil ran out. It’s refreshing to see a movie that recognises the slow technology adoption-rate of a real society. In our world where some cars can genuinely drive themselves, mobile phones are as powerful and multifunctional as PCs, and tourists can travel into space; how many people have actually adopted all of these things? How many people do you still know who like the simplicity of their old banger, who like the battery life of their old Nokia brick, or whose holiday budget will barely cover a caravan trip to Wales? I’m guessing more than a few. Too many films predict a future world where all old technology has been phased-out and everyone from every league of life is cruising round in a self-driving Hovercar Deluxe, sat in a brain chair whilst tiny robots sexually pleasure them. Too many films to count.

The first and most jarring aspect of this film is Jo-Gol’s face. Why they went through so much effort to plaster him with prosthetics in order to make him look more like B-Willy is beyond me, when most movies don’t bother their arses to even remotely match younger selves to older selves. B-Willy could even have been given a ‘young-over’, but the differences are definitely effective in establishing a contrast in the two versions of the character, and as such, I think overall a good decision. The only one thing I’d particularly criticise in this department are Jo-Gol’s fucking awful Halloween contact lenses. They often look so strange, especially when the camera zooms in close to his face (which it does frequently), that you’ll wonder if you’re actually watching a movie, or clips from a black metal music video.

Jo-Gol is, however, reliably excellent in this film as his conveniently named character, Joe. His lines flow like treacle, as his Willis-esque delivery hits the mark that his makeover doesn’t, and he’s got that cheeky raised-eyebrow look down to a tee. His character is removed from the usual Hollywood model good-guy, because he has very few endearing qualities, and it’s a testament to the high quality of writing, acting and direction of the movie that we’re still left rooting for him as the excrement hits the rotating cooling device.

B-Willy (old Joe) is also given a clever intro sequence as the thirty-year gap between him and young Joe is bridged, although the moment the two actors are swapped is a little jarring. This sequence will shag your brain if you let it, as it involves young Joe successfully killing his older self, and then growing old armed with the knowledge of how to avoid it happening again, before being sent back in time and preventing his younger self from growing into the older self that he became. Phew. The few glimpses we have of the future of 2074 are great, though, where predictably China has become the world’s most prosperous superpower, and hitmen wear badass hats. I like that. We should all start wearing hats again. But not sending people back to the past so they can be shot. That’s wrong.

So to get back on track, young Joe’s meticulously planned-for future collapses quicker than a skeleton on a treadmill when his older self escapes, which we are told is basically the worst thing a Looper can allow to happen. This is reiterated to us gruesomely, during a very memorable, nightmarish sequence, which I just can’t bring myself to spoil for you, but involves an old Looper discovering to his horror that his younger self is being mutilated, the consequences of which are apparent on his own body. Artistically, this was a fantastic scene, and hands-down one of the most shocking that I have seen in a film in recent memory, but if you were to go through the paradoxes with a fine-tooth comb (side-note: who the hell actually uses fine-tooth combs?), the imaginary rope suspending your disbelief would be snipped in a very rude and abrupt fashion.

The sci-fi in play here is certainly more of a backdrop for the deeper character drama at the film’s heart than for the purposes of a self-indulgent visual opera, and those character moments prove to be some of the film’s greatest and most memorable. A dialogue between young and old Joe in a diner is particularly satisfying, as old Joe tells his younger self what a self-centered prick he is. I’d love the opportunity to go back in time and tell myself something. Like “stop being a fat virgin.”

Looper

Old Joe soon proves how little he’s changed, however, gallivanting off to avenge his wife of the future by killing children who may or may not be responsible for her death thirty years hence, and it’s at this point that it’s difficult to empathise with the old man. You see, the story thread I mentioned earlier, about telekinetics; we learn that a child in 2044 will grow into a telekinetic monster who seizes control of the mafia and starts closing all of the loops, in the process killing the wife of poor old Joe. He is able to narrow down the boy’s address to several possible locations, and sets off on a child murder spree in the hopes that he kills the right one. Wow, that escalated quickly.

Young Joe, in the meantime, arrives at a farm hidden amongst cornfields, where he meets Emily Blunt’s shotgun-wielding badass milf, who has one of the greatest lines in the film, “I will cut you the fuck in half!” Emily Blunt is just awesome in everything she’s in, often playing a dry-humoured quirky girl, but never a hardass defender bitch like she does here. She is a delight to watch in all of her scenes, or perhaps I just fancy her something silly.

Blunt has a young child (which means she definitely puts out), who soon turns out to be a telekinetic little demonic bastard, somewhere between Damien, Carrie, and Dark Phoenix from X-Men. He can make large quantities of tomato ketchup from any human, and can turn a field full of corn into  year’s supply of corn flakes in an instant. He’s a little too messed-up at this stage to be a real boon to the food industry, however, and it soon becomes apparent that he is more than likely the future mafia monster who is responsible for closing all of the loops. Other than that, he’s a sweet little boy who hits young Joe’s soft spot, and I can’t stress enough what a talented little actor the boy is. And his evil “I’m about to turn you into tomato puree” face is enough to make a grown man don a pair of knickers and run home to cry into his pillow.

I feel like I’ve done a disservice to another great part of the film by not mentioning Jeff Daniels’ 2044 mafia boss. What a bizarre bit of casting that was, but just utterly fantastic. His friendly, humourous guise hides a psychopath who is unflinchingly ruthless with the doling-out of punishment. He is given just enough hype before his first on-screen appearance that we immediately know not to trust him, despite the chemistry he appears to have with young Joe, and an ominously placed hammer on his otherwise ordinary paper-strewn desktop confirms this distrust. It’s a long shot from the last film I remember seeing him in (Dumb and Dumber), although I’ve heard that one of the deleted scenes on the DVD release of Looper features him cellotaping the head of his dead budgie back on and selling it to a blind child (that’s a lie).

Looper

My title cites Terminator, Carrie, and Memento as having had a steamy threesome, and you may be wondering where Memento falls in there. Whilst not explicitly similar, thematically there are parallels. Memory loss, for example, is a big theme, especially when old Joe’s memories of the future are the victim of his own meddling with the past. We’ve also got a couple of occasions where young Loopers scratch messages into their arms for their older selves to read as scars. Quite how the physics of this works is probably best left unexplored, and surely tattoos would have been a little less garish, but such is the desperation of a fugitive.

So, you should correctly have gathered by now that I liked this film a lot. It succeeds despite its flaws, the majority of which are time travel paradoxes and very lightly brushed-over plot points. For example, why does the time machine transport the victims into a field whereupon they are shot and dragged to a furnace, instead of just teleporting them straight into the furnace? And why wouldn’t the mafia utilise the time-machine for something a little more profound than disposing of bodies? And why, if it is impossible to get away with murder in the future of 2074, do hitmen carry guns? What possible excuse could they have for being so overtly stupid?

Nevertheless, this film is a triumph, and has the makings of an instant classic. It establishes its world, warts and all, and has the charm to carry it off perfectly, even going so far as to invent its own vocabulary; for example, “Loopers” (who use blunderbusses of all weapons) and “Gat Men” with guns like that one the Joker uses in Batman Returns. It’s a world that screams out to be revisited, even if a sequel bore no relation to the story of the first, and has “potential franchise” written all over it, much like The Matrix did back in 1999. Whether we will see a sequel or not is uncertain, but I’m happy with this film as a standalone package for now.

Rating:

Looper is estimated to release on DVD and Blu-Ray in December 2012.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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11 Comments

  1. Cassandra
    0

    Stunning review! I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this on the premiere, I was expecting a stupid scify thriller like the trailer hinted but wow, great film!

  2. Great review! I totally agree about the use of prosthetics to alter Gordon-Levitt’s appearance. Personally I found there was an element of the “uncanny valley” about it and found it rather distracting. Other than that I thought Looper was a very enjoyable watch.

  3. I cannot wait to watch this, thanks for the review!

  4. Kevin Licht

    Along with The Master this is one of my favorite films of the year. I loved how they basically tell the audience to forget the time travel questions in the diner scene. There are a lot of interviews with Rian Johnson about how he had put a lot of the time-travel stuff together in his head but much of it didn’t end up on screen. I actually thought the make-up worked but what worked even better was Gordon-Levitt’s performance. He nailed a lot of Bruce Willis’ mannerisms.

    • Mike G

      Yeah I too found the make-up to work for the most part, but he nailed that performance. Rian Johnson actually consulted the guys who did Primer about the time travel. If you haven’t seen that, then please do!

    • TheGolar

      I’d certainly agree about his performance, which steps on the correct side of the “impersonation” line and is a convincing young Willis, although I agree with Laura that there is an element of Uncanny Valley about it, perhaps only because JGL’s normal face is so familiar.

      And I shall have to check out Primer. Is this the beginning of a new craze of taking normal nouns, adding “ER” to the end and turning them into time travel flicks? Let’s hope so.

      Grounder, Holer, Webber, Circler, Boner, Phoner, Squarer, Tosser, Ballooner, Womaner, Baller, Blobber, Stinker, Catcher, Wanker, Spooner, Mother Forker, Timer, Journeyer, Tooler, Shitter— I’ll stop, now…

  5. Taylor Ramsey

    Hehe. Fun review. I have been looking forward to this movie for a while and only want to see it more now.

  6. Hands down to you, this was a good read! I found it ever so bit distracting with Joseph’s face change, firstly I thought it was some obscure makeup. Once I got past that, I was left with a really intelligent movie.

  7. Getter Trumsi

    I loved it! My favorite of the year and I can’t wait to buy the DVD to see it again and again.

  8. Tatijana

    I’m kinda confused. Why do they have to kill their past/future selves? I don’t get that part.

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