Is Looper as clever a film as it thinks it is?

Rian Johnson’s new film Looper is a fresh take on time travel stories.
Looper is more than just the name of the film and job title of the main character, it also reflects the nature of the story. Any time travel based plot provokes post cinema discussions on exactly what happened if that happened if he was… etc. Looper is not as complex as the notoriously knotty Twelve Monkeys though and takes at least some of its cues from the Terminator franchise. Its circuitous storyline is well organised by writer / director Rian Johnson and presented in a relatively linear style. There are clues but they are well signposted and the film never becomes so clever that it stops being exciting. Somehow Johnson has managed to mix the adrenalin and the cerebral in an absorbing mix.
Warning- Spoilers in the rest of the review

The film is set in the future. Loopers are basically assassins, drop outs employed by a man from the future called Abe (Jeff Daniels) to execute people sent from 30 years further in the future where it is impossible to commit murder due to nano technology implanted in everyone.  They are paid with silver bars strapped to the bodies of their victim. Sometimes the loopers find the person they have to eliminate is their future self which is called closing the loop. This happens to Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon Levitt) but things go wrong and his future self played by Bruce Willis escapes. A cat and mouse game ensures- the younger Joe is being hunted by Abe‘s henchmen while he tries to track down his older self who is determined to kill a child that will grow up to become the Rainmaker, a notorious criminal.

Joseph Gordon- Levitt who got one of his best film roles in Johnson’s debut Brick is superb channelling his inner Bruce Willis. Aided by some prosthetics he manages to exude the half smile that Willis has made his own. Curiously when it comes to the scenes they share, he seems almost more like Willis than the actor himself. As for the great BW he is ideally suited to the role whose motivations are slightly dubious at first and who gets to fire a large amount of guns as things progress. Together they make the often vague character of Joe work and there is strong support from grizzled but menacing Daniels and also Emily Blunt as Sara who helps shelter young Joe but becomes intricately involved in the situation.

"You take my sandwich, this is what happens"

As the plot develops younger Joe goes to her farm, a location written on a map indicating where each of the three children who could potentially be the Rainmaker live. The classic location recalls Western imagery with the lone gunman protecting a woman and child on a farmstead, though in this case the child who is called Cid possesses fearsome telekinetic powers. Rian Johnson does not try to hoodwink the viewer in the manner of some temporal storytellers; his presentation makes it obvious the place young Joe selects is the home of the correct child which of course means older Joe kills two children unnecessarily.
This is where it can become head scrambling. Early on, Johnson does suggest that as history is changed, memories become cloudy which is a great way of papering over niggling questions.  However if older Joe has already lived the scenario, then how come he doesn’t go straight to the farm as he would then know which child is the one he is seeking? The ending means that by sacrificing himself, young Joe avoids Cid’s mother being killed and therefore the child grows up happier and does not become the Rainmaker. However (that word again) this would surely mean that said villain no longer starts closing loops meaning young Joe never faces his older self. It’s that kind of film! Some people have speculated that Joe himself grows up to be the Rainmaker, though this is not apparently something Johnson intended to suggest.
The more you think about it, the more questions arise and the fact that time is constantly being re-wired adds to the questions but this is part of the film’s appeal. There is plenty to consider but you can enjoy the film on an entertainment level anyway. The staging is terrific with a believable future, some superb action pieces and a light touch that stops matters getting too serious. For a science fiction film, it often does not particularly look like one at times. While some of the ideas are not original, the way they are used is inventive and involving adding up to a fascinating film you may need to see more than once.

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