It has become an uncommon sight but this autumn the public will be able to witness an event on their cinema screens that feels as rare as the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet; a quality science-fiction film. Looper, written and directed by Rian Johnson and set mostly in gang-run America in the year 2042, is a story about regret and the repercussions our actions – even those made in good faith – can have down the road.
The film is a dramatisation of that old schoolyard question: “if you could go back in time and kill Hilter as a baby, would you do it?” It stars Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (wearing his Bruce Willis mask) both as Joseph Simmons, a “looper” hired to murder people sent from the future by a criminal gang as a means of body disposal. Eventually a looper will have to close his loop, when the gang sends the looper’s self from 30 years in the future with a big cash pay-off into the past to be killed.
So many sci-fi films have been destroyed by spending disproportionate amounts of time explaining their world, but Johnson has perfected the art here, exemplified in a wonderfully eerie sequence in which Paul Dano’s looper is sent from the future to be closed, but escapes. Johnson’s philosophy on the matter of over-explaining is summed up perfectly by Bruce Willis when Gordon-Levitt begins to ask about the time-travel and Willis’s altering memory: “we’ll be here all day building diagrams with straws.”
Johnson’s script gives a mature portrayal of conflicting interests and as the two Joseph Simmons begin to clash the audience are tugged emotionally to and from the allegiances of each character until the very end. The third act of the film takes an unusual turn by actually slowing down the pace from the frenetic opening two. This jars slightly but is crucial to the emotional impact of the film’s conclusion.
Looper is a testament to the quality of films based on original stories, so it’s a pity that if the film’s successful Hollywood will end up green-lighting a bunch of generic time-travel stories, like they did with alien-invasion movies after the success of District 9. With only slightly clunky editing to its detriment, the film builds its world so effectively and constructs its plot so seamlessly that it is easily one of the best of the year. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie. In Irish cinemas 28 September.