The Review: Is it possible to know that you’ll love a film before you even see it? If I look through the list of my favourite films, then certain types of films keep cropping up: action movies, thrillers, science fiction and in particular time travel movies. Despite their tricksy ways with time, everything from The Terminator movies to Twelve Monkeys has been a particular favourite of mine over the years, and Back To The Future still retains its place as my favourite film of all time. But it’s not just the possibilities of time travel that cast their spell over me, it’s the rich tapestry that each of these films uses time travel to weave, in each case skilfully combining different story elements into a compelling tale. But for each of those classics, there’s a Timecop or an A Sound Of Thunder. So does Looper have all of the required elements to add it to the classic list?
First, there’s the setting. Looper raises the bar on other time travel movies by having no passage set in contemporary times, and using that to derive its unique selling point. Think of most time travel movies and they consist of characters from our time travelling forwards or backwards in time, or vice versa. Looper is set entirely in the future, and predominantly in two different futuristic years; time travel, having been invented by 2074, allows the criminal underworld to dispose of their evidence by sending it back in time thirty years to 2044. Loopers are the clean-up crew of the relative past, instantly killing off the criminals of the future as they are sent back in time, then cleanly disposing of the evidence. They do this in the knowledge that one day, they’ll be the one on the mat facing them on the other end of the a giant gun, at which point the loop is closed, with a pay-off sent along to help the last thirty years of their life run smoothly. And heaven help anyone who doesn’t manage to close their loop when their future self comes visiting…
In addition to the entirely futuristic setting, it manages to be an entirely convincing futuristic setting, regardless of the time period, feeling both a natural extension of current times, but at the same time suitably lived in. Not since Minority Report have we seen such a well thought out and absolutely convincing future setting, with not a single detail feeling out of place. That feeling of reality is also down to the characters, who while feeling totally of their era have issues and problems which are universal, even if they are set up by time travel shenanigans. The biggest trick for any film set across two periods to pull off is a convincing pair of actors playing the same role at different times, especially when one of those actors has one of the most famous faces on the planet. But thanks to some convincing prosthetics and the power of the actors concerned, you will never doubt for one second that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a young Bruce Willis; an impressive trick to pull off when they have so many scenes together.
Two things have elevated those other time travel movies to classic status: their mind and their soul. By their soul, I’m thinking of the tone of the story, the emotions that support the narrative, be it the comedy and romance of Back To The Future, the pulse-pounding threat of the Terminator or the poignant inevitability of Twelve Monkeys. Looper has a sense of humour, in keeping with director Rian Johnson’s previous films (Brick and The Brothers Bloom) but also an occasionally sick and sadistic touch, more darkly comic, revelling in the abilities of messing with characters who straddle two time periods. It also has soul, revealed in the second half of the movie which takes in a complete change of setting – and one which may prove to much of a right-angled turn for some audiences revelling in the futuristic nature of the backdrop to deal with – but one which allows the acting talents of Emily Blunt and young newcomer Pierce Gagnon to shine.
The other aspect is the mind, the high concept which instantly nails the story in your mind. What would you do if you went back in time and met your parents? Or if you were the mother of the future saviour of the human race, but spent your life hunted because of it? Looper’s hook seems to be initially whether you’d be able to kill your future self if the price is right, but in that Emily Blunt-based second half reveals itself to be something more basic and profound. The time travelling logic is as nebulous as that of many of its classic forebears (trying to make sense of timelines in most time travel movies will leave you scratching your head if you look too closely, and Looper actively plays with these expectations), but that shouldn’t detract from writer / director Johnson’s achievement; to create a time travel film which calls back in subtle ways to the greatness of its forebears, but also creates a unique vision with a mind and a soul all its own. I suspect people will still be talking about this one thirty years from now.
Why see it at the cinema: Movies like this are made for the big screen, and the sheer level of incidental detail in the background of the first hour needs to be seen as big as possible to truly appreciate, but it’s also best seen with an audience, as you’re bound to want to talk about it afterwards.
The Score: 10/10
The Review: Ah, remakes of French movies. Who can forget Three Men and a Baby, The Birdcage, Three Fugitives, er… Just Visiting… Every culture has its own sense of humour and style, and these don’t always travel well. So it’s a good idea for such remakes to put something of their own national style onto the bones of the structure, and this reworking of the French black comedy Ciblé emouvante, all of seventeen years old now, tends slightly more towards farce, although some slightly black comedic elements remain, and the two can in theory sit well together.
And there’s no faulting the ambition of the casting director. In addition to the three headliners, support from the likes of Rupert Everett and Martin Freeman lends the whole enterprise an air of credibility – at least until you remember that Al Pacino and Christopher Walken were in Gigli, so there are no guarantees in this life. But the weight of the movie rests firmly with Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt. The former is a model of restraint, layering character details carefully onto his mannered and largely restrained performance; the latter is the sparkle that more often than not keeps things interesting, flirting and wiggling her way through, a nymphomaniac, kleptomaniac charmer who’s out of her depth, but just keeps swimming anyway. Disappointingly, Rupert Grint seems destined to be making a career of adding 10% to the gross of movies that Ron Weasley die-hards wouldn’t otherwise have seen, and gets to do little of interest.
Where the movie is less successful is in moving the plot forward. The set-up brings the three leads together, somewhat unconvincingly, but then the nature of their first meeting then requires them to sit and wait for the plot to come to them, then run away when it does, rinse and repeat. So it does become more about the characters and the smaller details, and there are some wonderful smaller moments, but also some dreadful ones (and if you don’t plant your face in your palm when one of the characters mistakenly eats pot pourri, you’re reading the wrong review).
Sadly, the real factor which keeps this from being anything better than average is the pedestrian direction (would you want “From the director of My Cousin Vinny and the remake of Sgt. Bilko” on your poster?), which has the amateur-dramatic feel of too much mid-range British comedy, and doesn’t help serve any kind of momentum. Overall, Wild Target is quietly and sporadically enjoyable (put that on the poster – I dare you), with just enough to satisfy curiosity, but it rarely flies, and sadly too often… sorry, couldn’t resist… misses the target.
Why see it at the cinema: We can only hope that supporting this will give Nighy and Blunt the chance to be in better material at a cinema near you soon. And if you’re into Ron Weasley, you do see him with his shirt off. (Not sure if that’s a recommendation or not…)
The Score: 5/10