|as a neat sci-fi idea that borrows from too many better films and fails to live up to expectations
|Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Noah Segan, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo
|28th September 2012
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be soon. This is what we’re told at the start of a film, set in the 2040s.
30 years later, rather than trouble themselves with getting rid of the bodies of their rivals, gangsters will send them back to the past, where hitmen – called loopers – are waiting for them.
When the future gang bosses want to retire their hitmen, they send the older gunmen back to be killed by their younger selves, along with a payment, enough to give them a comfortable three decades before their own certain demise.
Or is it certain? When Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is confronted with his future self (Bruce Willis), the older man manages to get away.
Young Joe’s boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) threatens to send in the heavies if he can’t finish the job himself, so he sets off in search of his older self.
But Old Joe has a mission of his own – ever the ruthless hitman, he’s trying to find the kid who grew up to be the mob boss who sent him back to die.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
It’s never a good sign when a film has to start with a narrator, explaining how this particular world works.
The idea at its heart has merit – having these contract killers confronted with their future selves, bound and hooded, presents an interesting dilemma – can you kill yourself? This is a dilemma explored, not without interest, with one of the supporting characters, played by Paul Dano.
But in the main narrative, what could have been a more interesting storyline – can Joe beat the system and get his natural life back – is eschewed for the obvious; he’s meant to kill himself, so he chases himself to complete the job. Old Joe’s attempt to eliminate the source of his misery is an interesting side story, but – of course – he can’t succeed, as if he kills the boy, who will have sent him back in time in the first place.
Ordinarily, the writer of a time-bending science fiction thriller would be praised for keeping the logic consistent, but in so doing, Johnson makes the film more predictable and less engaging.
But it’s not just this plot inevitability that rankles, somewhat. A killing machine being sent back from the future to try to terminate a boy who’ll grow up to pose a threat to him many years hence – and that boy being protect by his gun-toting mother (here, Emily Blunt, with an American accent that’s far more convincing than any of her recent English ones) – does sound rather familiar. And seeing a creepy little boy exhibit otherworldly psycho-kinetic powers also recalls earlier films. The cine-literate will spot The Terminator, The Omen and many more influences besides – in every case, this falls well short of its precursors.
Johnson’s particular vision for his near future world has positives and negatives. Rather than the glossy cityscapes with flying cars that we often see, he presents us with an environment that’s not altogether different from our own: the cars even look the same; only the propulsion system has changed, with most being powered by solar panels on the bonnet, with clumsy piping carrying the charge into the fuel tank.
But the job of a looper, at the heart of the plot, is troubling. Who would take on a job, knowing that your life expectancy was certain to be limited to thirty years after you start the job. Furthermore, why do the loopers have to kill themselves? Would it not be more convincing – and less trouble for the future gangsters – to send them back to be killed by other people, just like anyone else? And is it not a bit of a stretch to ask the viewers to identify with a hero who earns a living by killing people with impunity and with a complete absence of any guilt, without knowing or even caring who his victims are. It doesn’t make for a very sympathetic lead character.
And what could have been an interesting element of Rian Johnson’s visual storytelling doesn’t quite pay off; he changes Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face almost beyond recognition, presumably to make him look like a young Bruce Willis – but he forgets – we’ve seen Moonlighting, so we know what Willis looked like thirty years ago – and he didn’t look like Gordon-Levitt with a prosthetic nose and thinner lips.