Looper follows in the same vein except this time Johnson's tackling science fiction and to add an extra complexity to the script he's taking on time travel, oh and if that wasn't enough he has Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis playing the same character in different times who are brought together in the same time and meet face to face and...well...complex it is but everything was suggesting that he'd pulled it off.
The film seemed to be taking a number of chances and dealing with a lot of big concepts, not least the amount of concepts and the potential for a large amount of visual effects, but I was hopeful that Johnson could carry it off, especially with the cast behind him.
Looper is an interesting film for it's one of those that doesn't hit you with everything it has while you're watching and instead it leaves trails that linger in your mind well after the film, trails that pull you back into the story and have you thinking and talking about it for some time after you've left the cinema, gnawing at your thoughts. As you do revisit it you discover more to the story, and that's always something I adore in a film. It marks it out as special and raises it above the rest.
I actually remember that my feelings about the film immediately afterwards were really good but not amazing. I wasn't blown away but as my wife and I walked up the road we began to chat about the film, discussing aspects of the story we enjoyed, some of the directions of the characters and the plot, and some of the moments that had seemed to be much quieter. As we talked about these and the intricacies in the story we began to realise how clever the writing and direction were, and as we explored the story the impact the film had on us grew. Looking back it was like a wine opened and breathing in a decanter, evolving and developing with every taste. Okay now I fancy a glass of red.
Seriously though that's how it felt, the more we explored it the more our enjoyment and appreciation of it grew and the more we realised how well conceived, written and directed it was.
Looper not only thinks well but it looks really good too. It managed to create a future that isn't far away from ours without the need for a huge budget of special effects filled with massive cityscapes and futuristic buildings, vehicles and people. With that it creates something believable and not too unreachable from our own lives.
It does the same with the story too for it doesn't leap into the fantastical side of time travel and all the difficult to answer questions and hard to comprehend possibilities, instead it keeps the focus on what the characters know and experience. One thing I particularly credit the film with is that it doesn't resort to over explanations to the audience either verbally or visually, and in a film with time travel at the core you would imagine that it would be all too easy to fall into that trap.
You can see this from the scene where the two male lead characters are sitting across from each other in the diner and the questions arise about time travel, the response from Bruce Willis feels real, staying with the character's perception and neither he nor the story feels the need to over explain things to the audience, rather they just let them happen and experience them. You know what though? That works.
This also extends into the visuals too, just looking at the scene where Willis' character is involved in the big gunfight we aren't shown every explanatory shot and while you might think that this is probably a budget and rating decision it's done so stylishly it fits in with the feel of the film. The camera follows the action without the need to explain every single shot as in a typical action film - baddie appears with gun; hero fires gun; baddie is hit; return to hero; repeat - instead it says very clearly that you don't need to show all the violence to achieve the same effect from a sequence such as this. It is scripted, staged, filmed and edited superbly well.
Another great example of this style of explanation through experience is the sequence where an escaped Looper is enticed back to the Gap men, the men who govern the Loopers and their work. We could have had much more shown to us cutting to the other point of views in the scene, instead the camera and so the audience stays focused with the victim and we experience the story playing out on their terms, from their viewpoint. It makes this all the more surprising and powerful and continues to credit the audience with intelligence.
These are prime examples of how clever the production is and how well the film utilises effects and budget to their best potential without blowing it on huge CG and big scale visuals and ideas. What we receive are some simple, clever but visually believable effects and that is a key strength of the film and of the film-maker, Hollywood take note.
There are a couple of things about the film's visuals that didn't quite work though. The main one was watching our lead character racing the bike through the corn fields which doesn't look great, the effects definitely fail the scene. Connected with that is the choice of vehicle for our Looper, an MX-5 and this is probably because of my own personal opinions about the car but it doesn't seem the choice of someone with the status and money in a modern society, you would have thought that they would have held onto a more muscular and/or sporty car. For me that choice just didn't sit well with the otherwise very strong production design. Still though, these are small points in the grand scheme of the film.
Something that had concerned me from the trailers was the look of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the young version of the Bruce Willis character, the idea was that they had made him up to look much more like Bruce Willis but it didn't quite work in the trailers, you could see the make-up but it didn't quite match Willis and it didn't look very real. I actually found myself looking at his face all the time more fascinated by the make-up than his character and the trailer.
The good news is that come the film the make-up and effects on his face look much better than the trailer and you can see the likeness between the characters much more, it feels real and you aren't distracted by it other than noticing it in the opening scenes.
More than just the make-up and facial visual effects Gordon-Levitt is really good in his role, and why wouldn't he be, he's a superb actor and when he's given a well written character which he delivers with natural ease. Here it's nothing different, he plays the role perfectly and pulls you right in as well as making you believe he's the younger version of the character.
Bruce Willis is good too, particularly during the scenes where the two are playing off of each other or where his character is presented with one of his many difficult decisions. His character is a really interesting choice for him and for the film for he isn't the straight forward character you'd expect.
During the early stages of the film you have pretty clear ideas of the two characters, the younger and older, but as the film develops the story really turns them around, particularly the older character, and delivers some rather surprising plot turns and character developments.
It's surprising how this happens as in other stories you might expect the character to lose your sympathies but with Looper and Willis' character this doesn't happen. I was rather surprised how much the film held me to the character despite the revelations of his motives and actions, and instead of turning against him I remained emotionally connected. Rather than alienating the character for the audience you do begin to feel the dilemma and the pain that he faces yet you still remain horrified at what he does and your feelings towards him do change.
The younger character, played by Gordon-Levitt, does go through a similar journey but it's a much slower one that comes to fruition later on and turns him in a rather different direction. He comes to a pretty surprising understanding about himself and those around him. It makes for a superb journey for both versions of the character.
Emily Blunt is superb in the film as well, she's a wonderful actress and delivers a performance with natural ease, she doesn't feel like she's acting for a moment and she's captivating in some of her scenes as well. Together with Gordon-Levitt they do keep you close to the characters and glued to the film.
The story delivers well right to the end and it was an ending that managed to surprise me as I really didn't expect it to play out the way it did. Even as the film took me to that point and I started to think how it could end I just didn't imagine it was going to go that way, the way the story had played out this far and the direction it was pointing me in didn't seem to suggest that this was going to be the ending, and yet the film delivered it. It's hard to fool me in a thriller these days and that really disappoints me but Looper did just that, it kept me uncertain right to the moment and delivered the ending with a matter of fact reality. I really enjoyed the payoff it delivered, and it's an ending that leaves you with more questions.
Overall: Looper is a great film that has some great and mighty ideas that are told so well from the characters viewpoints. Rian Johnson has written a clever script that could have fallen into so many pitfalls on the way. In plenty of films that have such complex storylines you would expect a flaw or something that has been left open or unexplored enough for you to see a hole in it, however in Looper it seems every thread, every avenue has been covered and there isn't anything for your mind to pick at and hold onto.
The film delivers a clever script indeed with just as clever direction, keeping the story and the characters from being swamped by the scale of the time travel story and being dragged away from the character based thriller that it delivers. This really is the kind of film that you could watch again and feel like you're gaining something new from it, I know for the first time in a long time I want to see it again even without Johnson's additional cinema commentary track.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis work really well together and Gordon-Levitt leads strongly. All in all it's a great science fiction thriller light on the science fiction and heavy on the thriller. It will keep your mind racing well after the credits have closed and have you wanting more and not just from this film but from Rian Johnson.