Monday, October 1, 2012

LOOPER - REVIEW

Looper
September 6, 2012 (Toronto International Film Festival)
September 28, 2012 (United States)
118 min
United States (English)

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson


The thick premise of "Looper" is focused on compelling characters, with the writing and performances to back them up. This is instantaneously a new sci-fi classic that delivers on action and surprises with nuance.

Joe is a Looper, one of a specialized gang of hit-men in the 2040s. They take care of "problems" sent back from 30 years in the future, a time when time-travel has been invented, outlawed, and is only used in secret. We observe Joe during working hours: quickly taking out his targets with an unforgiving blunderbuss, disposing of their corpses accordingly, and cashing in on the silver also sent from the future. Then we see what Joe's life is like when he isn't working. He drives fast through an economically collapsed midwest city, spends time at the club, especially with his favorite showgirl Suzie, and drops his drug of choice into his eyes. The effect is translated onto film during one midnight pleasure cruise. The dystopia is realized as a part of everyday life for Joe. Establishing shots and accompanying imagery for his narration set the scene for this bleak future. It's half passed "Children of Men," a quarter to "Blade Runner," and yes, "Looper" deserves to be included in the same sentence as those science-fiction sentinels.

Joe's line of work gets more complicated when his future self appears before him, adding a wrinkle to the time-travel scenario. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but "Looper" shows us the thirty years that separates Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from Old Joe (Bruce Willis). This touch really makes all the difference(s). Sure, they're technically the same person, but Old Joe has doubled his life-time. Even though the younger Joe is our guide through the story, we can sympathize with the desires of Old Joe. And so they discuss time-travel in a diner (pictured above). Time-travel seems to be all past and future, but we need to remember that it is in the present where we can make alterations. This can start to make your head spin. One character tells us, "This time-travel crap just fries your brain like an egg." "Looper" plays with these conventions while throwing in several other sci-fi ingredients: telekinesis and hover bikes to name just two.

"Looper" is the third film of Rian Johnson, who burst onto the scene with his remarkable modern noir, "Brick," back in 2005. That film also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, though the  two characters and performances are nothing alike. Here Gordon-Levitt had a make-up job to make him look more like a younger Bruce Willis (though Conan O'Brien brought up a good point when he asked why they didn't make Willis look like an older Gordon-Levitt instead), but that alone does not do the trick. Gordon-Levitt's mannerisms (soft-spoken yet tough and emphasizing emotions on the left side of the face) hearken that of Willis. (It's interesting to note that this is the second film this year to feature a great younger embodiment of an older actor, see Josh Brolin take on Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black 3."

Gordon-Levitt turns in one of my favorite performances of the year and of his career. He plays things cool when he is in control, which is often. (For example, see Joe's interaction with his boss, Abe, played by Jeff Daniels.) But when times are desperate he goes into survival mode. "Looper" gives Joe several occasions for this, which will satisfy those looking for some violence, but you should know that this film is just as much a character study as it is an action/thriller. There is also a sentimental side to Joe that we see shades of, hinted at through children he comes across.

Joe hides himself on a secluded farm where he meets a young boy Cid (Pierce Gagnon) and his protective mother (Emily Blunt). This is a terrific child performance by Gagnon while Blunt nails a role far different than what I've seen her work with in the past - you can forget she's British. These characters bring their own necessities to the plot which is already at conflict with Joe's literal battle with himself. "Looper" consistently keeps you surprised and satisfied. The action scenes I mentioned earlier are shot in unconventional ways where the back-and-forth camera decides what to show us and when to get us there. We saw similar work in "Brick" and it is encouraging to see that Johnson has not lost the creative and crafty techniques that made him stand out as indy filmmaker, even now when he is given a project with 60 times the budget of his debut. This cinematography makes watching the film just as interesting an experience as the methods these characters deal with their circumstances. We are truly seeing a vision that started on paper and is precisely translated onto the screen. Writer/directors can achieve this. Johnson collaborates again with Steve Yedlin, his director of photography since the beginning.

In closing my loop, this film is a wonder. It delivers thrilling moments and memorable confrontations like the best of them, but "Looper" blew my mind gradually, one scene at a time. It is often beautiful to look at. I recall one of many examples where Emily Blunt's character sits on her porch while a setting sun allows us to see the flying machine spraying her crops in the background (the future is always present in "Looper"). But most importantly this is an enthralling tale about Joe and the people he meets, including himself, and how he chooses to deal with them. The time to change is now.



★★★★½

CONTENT: strong bloody violence, some sensuality, female nudity, strong language.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Good review J.S. The plot makes perfect sense even if it may seem a bit confusing at first, and the suspense draws you in but something just did not mix so well in the end. I didn’t really care all that much for the characters and that’s sort of why the pay-off didn’t do much for me.