Monday, February 11, 2013

DVD of the Week: Looper

One of things I love about some films is that sense that you more you think about a film, the more you get out of it. So at first viewing it may chug along happily, but you can wake up the following day with thoughts about this scene, or that dialog, which unlocks more things in your head about it, and eventually you sort of pin your wife in a corner of the kitchen talking to her with a mad gleam in your eye until she threatens you with a frying pan and tells you you're never watching Inception ever, ever again.OK, that may be a bit too specific an example.But anyway, you know that quality a film can have? Well, Looper is pretty much the opposite of that.

I enjoyed the experience of watching Looper. It has a lot going for it. The world of the 2040s is well realised; a grungy and run-down futureworld with dozens of little background touches and flashes of interesting world-building. It's presented very well too, dropped into the story and dialogue without exposition, a world shown to us though people living in it, and reacting as such, rather than big infodumps, something is reserved for the opening voice over talking about time-travel and the basic setup for the film. The whole thing has a great noir feel to it, which I really liked.

So, in the future they haven't yet invented Time Travel, but further forward they have. This further forward also has some pretty capable police tech, so in order to dispose of people they want disposed of, criminals chuck them back in time to pre-set co-ordinates where a hired Hit-man kills them and disposes of them. Sounds simple enough. Ultimately, these hit-men will have their well-paid contracts closed by finding that their latest victim is their own future self, where they get a big payoff and the knowledge of how they're going to die.

Naturally the protagonist of this story, Joe (played young by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and old by Bruce Willis) ends up messing up "closing his loop" and ends up trying to hunt down his older self, who is on his own mission to change the future. Like I say, there is a lot of fun in watching the old and young versions of the character, and the only scene they really share is also one of the films strongest. Both have solid emotional performances and journeys through the film that shifts your allegiance and sympathies around. In fact, Looper plays best as a character story, a pair of linked personal journeys in a dirty and compromised world which offers no clean solutions.

The problem is that Looper really falls down on a couple of big points. The first is relatively minor - its a film that asks not one, but two big buy-ins, and the second feels really unnecessary. The additional of Telekinetics  sounds pretty cool on paper, but has little impact on how the story plays out, despite being hugely central to one of it's characters. I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, obviously, but once a big deal is made of it, I expected it to be a power that ties some of the films story together, and it really doesn't. So, what was the point exactly?

Because I can't help thinking that the other big "buy-in" for the film, it's central Time Travel, needs work too. It really, really doesn't work for me. Now the thing is, there are some cool things done with the time travel - one future character finding bits of his body vanishing as his present self is tortured is chilling and wonderfully effective, but makes no damn sense whatsoever. I mean, the wounds appear as old scars, so if (for example) he's had no foot all his life how does he run away in the first place and surely his memories would be altered as well as his physical self? Surely?

These sorts of questions ended up plagueing the day after seeing the film. There is even an implication towards the end that this may be a stable time-loop, where events happen because they happen and an act of will is needed to change that. But of course it can't be, because you'd already seen Old Joes life which didn't include any sense of him hunting himself down as a younger man. So no, thats not it. On more than one occasion characters wave their hands and say "timey-whimey" but there is only so far that takes you when you start breaking your own rules as profligately as Looper seems to do.

As I said at the start, I enjoyed the experience of watching the film, I really did. As a future-noir thriller its pretty cool, and it's strong central conceit goes a long way. Its just in the details, when you really start to pick at it, that I found it starting to fall apart, which is a shame. So watch it, and enjoy it while it lasts.