The top 10 films of 2012: Looper

Feature NP Horton 28 Dec 2012 - 07:45

It's our third favourite film of 2011. Nick explains why Rian Johnson's Looper was such a great sci-fi outing...

And we finally arrive at the top three, in our writers' film of the year countdown. It's Joseph Gordon-Levitt's second entry in the top ten too, as we salute Rian Johnson's Looper...

3rd place:

Looper

While 2012 has provided a whole host of cinematic treats, many of the more anticipated movies fell short. For those looking to Prometheus for an original and engaging sci-fi concept, all they got was a confused mess. But fortunately, help was at hand and we were able to embrace a new sci-fi champion – Looper.

Providing one of the most impressive and immersive original film worlds of recent years, Looper took the well-worn time travel plot device and made it seem exciting and new again. Set in a future where criminals send those they want killed into the past, Looper revolves around Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe being forced to hunt down and kill his older self, played by Bruce Willis.

Along the way, he also has to evade the attentions of Noah Segan’s Kid Blue, and solve the mystery of the Rainmaker, a future crime-lord who will one day destroy Joe’s world. With two amazing central performances from Levitt and Willis (who seems to excel at time-travel films), and a host of captivating supporting turns from Segan, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano, Looper was the one film this year that I have recommended time and time again (excuse the sort-of pun), and the one film that genuinely felt like a breath of fresh air in a genre often filled with retreads of material we’ve already seen. For that, Looper is fully deserving of its place in our top 10.

While the time-travel is neatly done and used to expert effect, to call Looper a time-travel movie is to miss the point behind it. Sure, you can work yourself up into knots about the mechanics of it all, and deride it for going off course and being illogical, but where’s the real fun in that? As director Rian Johnson has said in interviews, he worked out the entire system of logic behind the time travel and then figured out how to use as little as possible of it – Looper is more like the The Terminator, where time-travel sets up the situation rather than acts as a puzzle to be solved.

A perfect example of this is the horrific sequence in which Paul Dano’s character is tortured in the present in order to inflict pain on his future self, who's running loose in a time in which he shouldn’t be. If you were to deconstruct this sequence, it’s not going to make a hell of a lot of sense, but cinematically, it’s powerful and memorable. It’s the prefect case of a concept being used to sell a threat, and the filmmaker choosing to do something because it looks great, rather than because it makes sense within the logic of the film. Often, this can go horribly wrong, but in Looper, it results in one of the year’s most terrifying and expertly handled sequences.

Credit must also go to Johnson’s world building. When was the last time such a fully realised fictional environment was created from scratch especially for the screen? Looper does not have 60-plus years of comic book legacy to draw from for its iconography and recognition. Nor is it a sequel or remake of a popular movie, robbing it of any shorthand it can use to sell its world.

Instead, Looper spends time introducing us to its sci-fi concepts and characters. We get to know them and how they live. Both visually and through narration, the world of Looper is crafted and layered for the audience, and the result is a fully formed and believable fiction. This has the effect of generating numerous conversations about the characters we meet – is Kid Blue the younger Jeff Daniels? Probably not, but there are enough clues to make you think twice, and the strength of these two characters makes you care.

The result is that Joe’s story is just one of several you could imagine set in the Looper universe, rather than the be all and end all of that world. The same goes for the future in which the Rainmaker holds sway; while we have glimpses of it, I’d love to spend more time there and explore. Just how does he rule, and what happened to make murders impossible? Looper invites endless debate and conversation.

If you judge a film by how it holds up to repeat viewings, then Looper must rank among the very best, rewarding the viewer with something new each time. Sure, it’s not perfect, with the telekinesis a bit out of place, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s facial prosthetics are distracting in places, but these are very minor quibbles in what is an absolute triumph of plotting, characterisation, design, and spectacle.

Looper was the film in which Rian Johnson fully delivered on the promise he showed with Brick.

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