(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 14 October, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/tyranny-versus-time)
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Pierce Gagnon, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels
Director: Rian Johnson
Rating: 4 stars
There are some unwritten rules that the average Hollywood sci-fi action flick follows. One, the dialogues must be terrible. Two, the philosophy must be as shallow as it is pretentious. Three, there can be no grey shades. Four, the woodenness of the actors will be directly proportional to the girth of their biceps. Looper defies every one of these rules, thanks largely to Rian Johnson’s no-nonsense script and intelligent direction.
My favourite aspect of Looper is that it isn’t one of those annoying action movies that keep us guessing for the first half-hour, forcing us into a second watch to grasp the premise. The opening scene startles us, and the voiceover that follows tells us everything we need to know about the idea it’s based on.
It goes on to cleanse our minds of tired time-travel staples, by couching the niggling questions in a mould of ambiguity. It makes us think about versions of reality, and the perspective that hindsight gives us. Do right and wrong become relative when we know the outcome? Does changing something in the past change the present and future? If we know someone is alive at a certain time in the future, will that stop us from killing him or her in the present? And if we were to kill him or her right now, what would that do to the future?
By populating the movie with such clichés as the epithet ‘The Rainmaker’ and bizarre leather long-coats for squads of assassins, Johnson sets up a lovely foil for the stunning originality of his storyline. The characters are deceptively pragmatic, in a film that’s truly thought-provoking. We begin to wonder whether memories are real, or simply one possible eventuality.
As the story progresses, it teases us into contemplating illusions, rather than loopholes. If we could travel in time, what dilemmas would we face? They could be as mundane as avoiding chocolates so you wouldn’t die from diabetes-related complications. And as terrifying as having to choose between killing a child and rearing a monster. If you knew an angelic little boy would grow into a dictator, would you kill him? If you knew a woman would die so you’d live, would you avoid meeting her? If you knew how you would die, would you save yourself?
The plot is punctuated by just the right twists, calibrated perfectly, so that we’re kept guessing till the end, because we know this film will do anything to its characters, in order to give us a good story.
The Verdict: Looper must be watched, if only to reassure ourselves that an involving film can be crafted from the concept of time-travel.