TIFF '12's terrific opener, now at your local multiplex.
Rian Johnson (USA, Gala Presentations)
For its superb first hour, Rian Johnson’s Looper flirts with “instant genre classic” status, amply fulfilling the promise of its ingenious, noir-inflected sci-fi premise: in the late 21st century, time travel exists but is outlawed, used only by underworld figures as the ultimate means of dispatching rivals. When the mob marks a target for death, he’s bound, gagged, and sent back in time, where a past-dwelling triggerman, or “looper,” lies in wait. After a point-blank shotgun blast, the body is disposed of, rendering it untraceable by the future’s authorities. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one such looper, but hesitates with fateful consequences when he recognizes a would-be victim (Bruce Willis) as his future self.
Any misgivings as to Johnson’s capacity to handle his ambitious, relatively action-heavy subject matter (next to previous features Brick and The Brothers Bloom) are hastily dispelled. Propelled by his customary wit and some terrifically textured world-building, Looper positively flies out of the traps.
But the writer-director gives himself a lot to juggle in Looper‘s latter half, including the introduction of Emily Blunt as a Sarah Connor-esque single mom. From here, the film effectively becomes a take on The Terminator, with Johnson applying a morally ambiguous, existentialist twist to James Cameron’s iconic game of inter-temporal cat-and-mouse. And though he can’t quite sustain the giddy brilliance of the film’s breathless early proceedings, as an engrossing, genuinely inventive, thinking-person’s thriller, Looper remains a rare treat.