[Review] – Looper

11 Oct

Title: Looper
Year: 2012
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Garret Dillahunt, Pierce Gagnon
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content
Runtime: 118 min
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 84

These are the signs that the end of the year is here. During the first nine months of 2012 I had seen six films worthy of an A+ out of the 187 movies I had watched; now that October is here and the really good movies are being released to vie for some Oscar attention I’ve seen two in just three days. That’s because Looper is just mind-blowingly good and really proves that Rian Johnson is the kind of infinitely talented and original American filmmaker that will always do things his way. It also confirms that, after The Dark Knight Rises (another A+) and Premium Rush (a surprising B+), Joseph Gordon-Levitt has really made it now, and he even has a role in Lincoln next month to back that all up.

Back to Mr. Johnson though, because he deserves every bit of credit for this film being a masterful as it is (and he because he wished me a happy early birthday and told me he would love to direct a Doctor Who episode on a recent Reddit AMA he did), the man continues to impress on just his third feature. He started off in 2005 with the stellar Brick, one of those films that’s just stupidly underrated by most, made with a budget of less than half a million, a film noir set in a high school also starring Mr. Gordon-Levitt that deservedly got him a Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at that year’s Sundance.

Then in 2009 he did The Brothers Bloom with a much bigger $20 million budget and big name stars like Rachel Wesiz, Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo. The film, this post-modern con-man story, unfortunately disappointed at the box office and, even though I liked it a fair bit, came nowhere near close to achieving the greatness of Brick. Still, even though it was a step backwards it continued to prove that Rian Johnson was an utterly imaginative filmmaker (he writes his own films, too) that really wasn’t afraid to be boldly ambitious and could get some really stunning performances from his actors as he navigates very different and defined genres in really unique visual ways.

Thankfully someone still showed a lot of faith in him, giving him an even bigger budget of $30 million this time around and Mr. Johnson switched genres once again, this time delivering the sci-fi spectacle that is Looper, which served as the opening film of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and, unlike The Brothers Bloom, has already made back its budget at the box office.

The plot is brainy and complex as hell, just like Mr. Johnson likes it, so let me do my best to explain it in a way that makes sense. The film’s sci-fi element comes from the fact that time travelings plays a huge role in it. Some 30 years from now, in 2044, the U.S. has suffered a big economic meltdown (yes, another one) which means there’s a lot crime going on. 30 years after that, in 2074, time traveling is invented, but of course it’s immediately prohibited by the government meaning it’s a black market sort of thing and is used by the mob to do their dirty work.

Here’s what I mean by that. In 2074 you have time travel and you also have tracking systems in bodies which makes it hard for the mob to dispose of them. So, what they do is that they get the person they want dead, they send them 30 years back in time where they have an assassin, called a “looper”, waiting there to kill them off. You guys follow? Well, it just so happens that Joe, Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s character, is one of those loopers, living the good life making the good money as an assassin, just having to be right on time where the guy is coming from the future, pull the trigger and collect his reward. If a looper isn’t there on time or if his victim escapes, the mob kills him.

You may think that the problem Joe gets into is that he misses a shot or is late to the spot where the guy’s coming in. Well, wrong, what happens is that Joe is at the right spot at the right time and then the guy that comes in for him to kill is his own future self. You see, when the mob wants to end a looper’s contract they send him back in time to be killed off by his younger self, “closing the loop”, they call it. As you now might imagine, Joe’s predicament starts when he obviously doesn’t pull the trigger on himself and the mob starts going off after both him and his future self.

Look, I’ve only seen Looper once so I don’t really know for sure if there are or aren’t plot holes for this film to fall through, but I don’t think I really care all that much. For one thing, I also gave an A+ to Prometheus, which had the most gaping plot holes that were obvious on the first viewing, and I didn’t care. Secondly, we don’t have time to linger over the logic and inspect every little detail of the process here because Mr. Johnson doesn’t let us, he just makes this thing go-go-go, telling a wholly unique story in a tremendous way as he goes.

Because really, that’s what Mr. Johnson is first and foremost: a storyteller. Sure, this is steeped in genre elements and there are visual moments that are splendid but you always get the sense that what he cares about the most here is the sheer story he’s telling. Yes, there is a lot of time traveling here and that puts the movie into motion, but that’s not what the film is about, you don’t get all the intricacies about the specifics of it, you pretty much get a character-piece about these individuals dealing with a situation that it just so happens what brought forth by time travel. That’s why I didn’t get all into the logic, because a part of me felt Mr. Johnson just wanted us to take it in and go on and really dive into the bigger story here.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that once you get to the bottom of it it moves like a regular film. Far from it, Looper is always a mind-bending treat with twists and (pardon the pun) loops, that really throw you for a wild and infinitely intelligent action-thriller. But yeah, I really did feel that for you to really connect with this film you have to get to the real meat of the story, you have to see what it says about destiny and about how what we do now will have consequences in what we do in the future. The fact that Mr. Johnson kept the time traveling specifics simple is brilliant because it allows us to make sense of them ourselves, filling in the blanks if you will, and be able to quickly move along with the stuff that really matters.

You may have heard, or seen, a lot about Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s appearance here. He spent a couple of hours in make-up every day to resemble Bruce Willis, who plays the older version of Joe, and looks aside he does a damn killer job at the impersonation, just really nailing the voice and the mannerisms, everything about this performance just really worked for me. It’s fantastic acting from a fantastic actor that’s having a career year here, I mean you get to understand little things about Bruce Willis just by looking at Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s performance for two hours better than you would by watching Mr. Willis’ own performances of the lat couple of decades.

Not only is Mr. Gordon-Levitt tremendous and at the very top of his game, but Mr. Willis is also very good in this underrated kind of performance and, much like his co-star has starred in two films I’ve given an A+ to this year (Moonrise Kingdom being the other one). The rest of the cast is damn stellar, too. You have Jeff Daniels having so much fun playing Abe, Joe’s boss; the terrific Paul Dano as a fellow looper of Joe’s; Noah Segan who I hadn’t taken notice of before (he’s been in all three of Mr. Johnson’s films) and is great here as Kid Blue, one of Abe’s hired muscles; and then there’s Emily Blunt as Sara, a single-mom that lives in a farmhouse the Joe’s stumble upon, she’s brilliant and commanding, really the heart of the whole film; Pierce Gagnon, who plays her son, is really something else, too.

Mr. Johnson has just proved here that he is the realest of deals, not only just an awesome guys as evidenced by his Twitter feed, his responses in the aforementioned Reddit AMA session and his appearances on Filmspotting, the best film podcast I listen to. I mean, his first film was a low-budget film noir set in high-school which he followed up with a con-man story and now this. He tackles on genres that come with generic expectations and has the time of his life subverting all of them. And say what you might about the logic of the time traveling parts, but the care that he’s put into crafting the characters and the world they inhabit is stunning, that’s what makes this film have such a strong emotional core to it.

I know I’ve just seen it the one time and I know I have to let it sink in because that’s what you have to do with films like this one, but I’m just damn ready to call Looper a sci-fi masterpiece. It does everything right; it’s hugely entertaining, it has this almost Kubrick-ian style in a way, it’s affecting, it’s as funny as it is dark, it’s thought-provoking, inventive, it’s unpredictable. You can’t ask for more from a film. It’s a sci-fi masterpiece, there, I said, and Mr. Johnson really proves to be one of the greatest young American filmmakers out there and I can’t to see what genre he chooses to tackle next.

Grade: A+

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