Looper Review

The Movie

In the not too distant future, killing people has become a very tricky business. Tricker than time travel in fact, which has been invented, quickly outlawed and appropriated by a gangland boss to dispose of his would-be victims, who are trussed up and sent back 30 years to a desolate cornfield to be dispatched by a hired killer. These gunmen are paid handsomely for their work but it comes at a price: after 30 years they are also returned to 2044 to be shot by their younger counterpart, thus completing their 'loop'.

Some have tried to escape their fate, usually with very grisly consequences, but one man bucks that trend. Joe (Bruce Willis) decides to fight back, having been wrenched from his idyllic life to fulfil his, ah, obligation to his former employer. He escapes from his younger self (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and goes on a killing spree of his own to try and cut short the future kingpin's rule before it ever begins. And not only does Joe have to contend with his callow former self pursuing him, his boss's present-day goons are also hot on his tail. The fight for the future centres on a farm in Kansas, where Sara (Emily Blunt) and her precocious son Cid live in isolation. But they don't live so far away from civilisation for their protection - it's for ours...

Director Rian Johnson's scifi headscratcher starts off by exploring its initial concept, that of Joe and the present-day loopers living it large and taking care of business, but when Old Joe appears the movie takes a different path, turning into a riff on The Terminator by way of Akira. And I don't make the allusion to James Cameron's 1984 classic just for the time travel assassination shenanigans, because Looper is also a story about love and the power it has to change the cyclical nature of violence that we humans can't seem to escape from. So while the themes are somewhat derivative Looper still manages to impart its own sense of identity, much of which is owed to the Louisiana locations (standing in for Kansas) and the grimy 'used world' aesthetic that contrasts nicely with the occasional shiny bit of future tech - and all without evoking too many memories of Blade Runner.

Looper moves with precision and economy, Johnson being savvy enough to know when to let the story breathe for a few minutes and when to ratchet up the pace again. When it does sit still, any notion of trying to explain what's going on is casually swatted away by Old Joe, who doesn't wanna talk about this "time travel shit". While that may prove frustrating for some viewers, it means that the movie doesn't get bogged down with too much exposition. There is a fairly leaden voiceover at the beginning which tells you the basics, but after that it stops holding your hand and gets on with the show. It's not a stretch to assume that Looper would've been a far more clunky and commercialistic affair if it were a studio movie and not an indie. That said, there is an unnecessary dollop of shooty-bang-bang nonsense late on that feels like it belongs in a Die Hard movie, but apart from that blip Looper does have something interesting to say.

The performances are excellent across the board. The makeup used to make JGL look like Brucie has been a bone of contention in some quarters, because people tend to either love it or hate it. Me, I think it's great (aside from the contact lenses which look too false), but just focussing on that aspect does a disservice to the expert way that JGL has captured Willis' trademark thin-lipped pout and taut jaw, not to mention his loping flat-footed walk. JGL even manages to accurately convey Willis' world-weary undertone of a voice. The performance goes beyond mere caricature however, because JGL is able to fill in the gaps and imbue the role with enough emotional truth so that it actually plays like a younger version of Willis' character, instead of being a boring facsimile of Bruce Willis's movie star tics.

Bruno himself is very good value, putting in a nuanced performance that plays up his vulnerability (both mentally and physically) as the older of the two Joes, though he does still get to bust some heads. Emily Blunt's Sara rarely lets her piss-and-vinegar facade down, though when she does you know you should be afraid, because if something scares this shotgun-toting mama then it's got to be serious. Pierce Gagnon is exceptional as her son Cid, portraying this troubled child with an intensity and singular sense of purpose that is downright chilling. Kid Blue, the bumbling henchman out to bag Joe, is played in suitably dumb-assed fashion by Noah Segan.

Looper looks and sounds like it cost many more times its $30m budget and the story has plenty of substance to get your teeth into. It loses points for its imitative premise, as Cameron got there first with his time travelling notion of 'love conquers all', and, as with most stories about temporal tinkering, it falls apart if you think about it too much. But when the final result is this enjoyable it seems churlish to complain too loudly, and Johnson's film has rightfully earned the critical plaudits that have been bestowed upon it.

The Disc

This region B locked platter starts with trailers for The Impossible, Bullet To The Head, The Sweeney, Hammer Of The Gods (nope, me neither) and Maltesers, thankfully they can be skipped.

Looper was shot in anamorphic widescreen on 35mm and finished on a 2K DI, and this AVC 1080p encode does the source justice. Detail is crisp and clean, though not aggressively sharp as there's no edge enhancement to spoil the party. The colour is fairly muted, steering well clear of the modern fad for overbearing teal colouring (my God - blue skies are actually BLUE), but skin tones veer towards the warm nonetheless. The blacks aren't terrifically deep all the time, but the payoff is that there's plenty of detail in the shadows and only a couple of instances of black crush, with no unsightly banding. Grain is kept on a very tight leash, though I wouldn't expect to see a lot in a contemporary anamorphic show anyway. And yes, the blue lens flares ARE PART OF THE PICTURE so please do not adjust your set.

The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track is very good, with active rears, intelligible dialogue (a challenge when JGL and Willis are mumbling away) and some powerful LFE when called upon. The mix has a nice sense of attack without being overbearing, i.e. it's not loud for the sake of being loud like so many other soundtracks I've heard recently.

There's a reasonably good roster of extra features. The featurettes (Looper: From The Beginning, The Science of Time Travel, New Future Old School and The Two Joes) are lightweight EPK style pieces, and even though they've got a short collective running time of 25 minutes they still manage to rehash the same comments over and over. The 16-minute Scoring Looper feature is better, as it features composer Nathan Johnson telling us how he collated and employed the sounds for his eclectic score, and each little segment is followed by a clip from the film with just the isolated score playing.

Rian Johnson provides insightful commentary for both the film and a 32-minute assortment of deleted scenes, which are mostly extensions of no real consequence. (There is a nice little bit where Old Joe literally sees his memories of his wife fog over, but it's redundant which is why it was trimmed.) Johnson is joined by Emily Blunt and JGL for the feature commentary, and the trio have a natural, easy-going vibe, the director providing lots of technical titbits and the actors chipping in with their recollections. Finally, there is a very cool animated trailer in lieu of a proper live action trailer.


Looper goes about its business with no small amount of confidence and style, placing its trust in the audience to figure things out, and as such it puts the major studios to shame. The Blu-ray is very good indeed, with above average AV quality and some decent extras.

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