Rian Johnson’s latest genre-crossing effort,_ Looper,_ is not as deep or as complex as its proponents would have you believe. Like another recent Joseph Gordon Levitt-starring-time-and-space-bending-so-called ‘mind-fuck’ of a film, Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a lot of the philosophical insight that will be found in this film will be assumed by the viewer, rather than suggested in the film. Rian Johnson, the film’s director, even suggests this himself, with a scene where Bruce Willis, JGL’s co-star and older self, tells his younger self to shut up when he begins to pose the deeper questions that time-travel can provoke, as well as questioning the mechanics of it all. This isn’t a bad thing, not getting bogged down in the theoretical or the philosophical allows Johnson to instead focus on the moral side of things instead, weighing decisions and choices against the moral weight that the knowledge of their future repercussions brings, asking if a short term evil validates the negation of a future one. Anything past this is pure projection. Like_ Inception, it looks like _Looper will find a devoted and obsessive fanbase. Of the two films though, Rian Johnson’s Looper is the more deserving.
Rian Johnson, the directorial voice behind the 2005 high-school-neo-noir Brick, and the less in favour 2008 postmodern-conmen-caper, The Brothers Bloom, is a young auteur unafraid to experiment with style and genre, and in Looper he completes a trilogy of inventive, label-defying films.With Looper, he knits a not overly complex, well put-together moral story out of the central premise of a ‘Looper,’ a hitman who kills future targets in the past to ensure they don’t exist in the future, who is met with his own future self on the job and has to work out how to deal with the web of moral complexities this opens up for him, and by extension the world. Following the ‘butterfly flapping its wings causing a tidal wave in China’ logic, actions that this young Looper takes could eradicate the direction his own older self’s has taken his life and create or destroy a future villain who controls the future underworld and orders the destruction of all Loopers. All the while, his employers are chasing him, and his older incarnation, trying to correct the historical vortex they have created by failing to complete the self-murder transaction originally planned.
The young Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is compromised emotionally by interactions with the future villain (currently a small boy) and his mother/guardian, Emily Blunt; and the older one, Bruce Willis, is himself compromised by his own relationship with a Chinese woman who ‘saved him’ as well as the knowledge of how the future will turn out. Everybody runs around Johnson’s futuristic Kansas locations (including many scenes of running through Corn fields) trying to weigh their own desires for the future against the moral sacrifices needed to achieve them, until a conclusion is found. While its fairly obvious what choice he will ultimately make to deal with these issues, following the journey is a fun and exciting ride, with bravado set pieces, stylistic flair, and an unnecessarily tacked on telekinesis element. It sounds fairly complicated, but Johnson tells this story in a very accomplished manner, and unusually for a modern Science Fiction film takes it through to a narratively logical and rewarding conclusion.
Looper is undeniably ambitious, and Johnson deserves some credit for constructing the film that he did out of such a potentially disastrous premise, but it is not the intelligent Sci-Fi masterpiece some will claim it to be. It is complex in narrative, but not in meaning, starting in promising territory, but becoming a fairly simple moral tale by its end, and the first half is undeniably stronger than the second. There are moments where it provokes laughter without intending to (people fall down, a lot) and the little boy with terrifying telekinetic powers feels completely tonally out of place, a horror character, and a laughable one at that in an otherwise straight Sci-Fi picture. The casting feels weak, down to the forced-on prosthetic chin to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look more like Bruce Willis, if only through a fat chin. Its best to not even mention the part where Bruce Willis has a semi-balding wig on to make him look more like his young counterpart. Both characters could have been played better by someone else, Joseph Gordon Levitt was particularly flat, and Willis getting his old man action-hero glory in a scene where he takes out an entire criminal organisation by himself seemed to be in the film purely to justify the casting of senior John McClane himself.
Despite all this, Looper is an undeniably entertaining film, and as far as summer blockbusters go, it is one of the better ones. Johnson puts a lot of heart and passion into his films, and even if they misfire, and his versatility, or at least his refusal to commit to a single proven method of filmmaking, is commendable. In a time where a lot of filmmakers seem happy to find their niche and churn out endless variations on theme, its refreshing to find a director who is always willing to reinvent himself, even if he is not always entirely succesful in doing so.