As we reach the end of the year I’m catching up on a few films I’ve missed and this was one of them. I’m surprised by all the praise for this film, especially from the same crowd of people who spent the summer dissing Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises. For the first hour I thought it was nothing more than this year’s Demolition Man: a boringly obvious sci-fi film that gets all its gags and plot-points by flagging up the differences between our world and the posited future world. When I see films like this (and they come along often) I always think of the awful ‘gag’ in Fifth Element when Bruce Willis lights a cigarette that’s 80% filter and 20% cigarette.
I really hated the business about people with telekinetic powers and even when its purpose is explained later in the film it feels stupid and pointless. Plus I always hate Paul Dano, in anything, for some illogical reason.
Halfway through the film is a pivotal scene in a diner where the film threatens to become interesting. They’ve used the idea from Inception that crazy, brain-tangling sc-fi ideas can become acceptable for mainstream audiences if you tie it down to a basic human desire for love and companionship. Nolan is obsessed with this stuff, like he’s swallowed a screenwriting manual, and I often think he goes a bit overboard with his character motivations, but the plain fact is, as any script editor or story consultant will tell you – this stuff works. If done correctly. (But Looper blows it.)
So the explanation of the elder Bruce-Willis-looper coming back in time makes dramatic sense. But then the film fatally destroys the goodwill and dramatic logic it’s created by having Willis-looper go around killing children. That’s definitely not out of the Nolan screenwriting handbook. If the film wanted to be really clever it would have played up the duality angle – the evil older looper and the good younger looper. It could be like that Superman film where there’s a bad, evil superman. But Bruce Willis doesn’t really do evil and has to be charming and empathetic even when he’s going around killing children.
Then we have the long sequence with Emily Blunt and her monster child that kills the momentum of the film. When Willis-looper returns at the end it should be a big dramatic moment as the two loopers face off, but it’s nothing of the sort. The drama is all invested in the nonsense about the telekinetic kid. I appreciate the ending which makes it nigh on impossible for a sequel; a nice touch. But for me the film isn’t particularly clever. It tries to have its cake and eat it by presenting Willis-looper with a believable motivation, but also wanting him to be the bad guy. It should have decided which way it wanted to go. Perhaps Willis as the good guy and Levitt as the evil one, with Willis somehow sacrificing himself at the end, would have worked better.