Thursday, October 4, 2012


Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt both play Joe in Rian Johnson's Looper
***1/2 out of ****

Like the most entertaining time-travel movies I’ve seen, Looper doesn't make sense. Its logic is often contradicted in the service of thrilling sequences. I'd give examples, but like this movie, I don't have time to go into it. Back to the Future definitely comes to mind. In that movie and its sequels, the way time alteration works is silly, but it functions as a plot device to drive a story that has become an endearing classic. Then there are movies where the time travel has a kind of absurd order due to inalterable predestination like the excellent Spanish film Time Crimes and, when you think about it, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Also, there are movies like Déjà Vu and Frequency, which get so wrapped up in the emotion of their story, that they are an embarrassment to the genre… But I enjoy them anyway. If you can’t tell, I’m a sucker for time travel movies.  

With Looper, Rian Johnson has made an amazing film that is tonally unique in its dramatic center and draws inspiration from classic science-fiction films. There are elements of The Terminator for its plot and Blade Runner for its anti-hero protagonist. He also mixes in other genres in a way that may not work for everyone, but I sure felt entertained.

The film follows the tradition of Philip K. Dick-inspired absurd science fiction. In the year 2042, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hired gunman who stands in the middle of a field and waits for his bound and masked targets to arrive via teleportation from thirty years in the future. The mob from this future, send people back in time because human tracking in the 2070s has become too advanced. Practical? No. But watching Joe work is haunting. It becomes even more haunting to learn that these assassins all know that their final target will be their future-selves. This is called “closing the loop.” After this, they retire until thirty years have past and it is their turn to die. So when Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) appears without a mask, young Joe hesitates with recognition while old Joe knocks him out and gets away. 

The movie makes no confusion about it. Young Joe and old Joe have no respect for each other and stay enemies for the rest of the film. Old Joe has an agenda to alter the future. Young Joe is on the run from his organization with the trouble that comes for letting something like this happen. He takes refuge on a farm in the country owned by a single mother (Emily Blunt). This is the setting for the rest of the movie where the plot takes some very unexpected turns.

Gordon-Levitt is in makeup to help him resemble Willis, which would be distracting, if he hadn’t done such a damn good job at playing Willis. He gets the voice, inflection, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies of this now classic actor down with such natural ability. 

Bruce is just playing cool old Bruce until the character requires him to do things that are not cool and frankly upsetting. Doing a dark time travel film with Willis is unquestionably a callback to my favorite time travel movie ever, 12 Monkeys.

Emily Blunt is wonderful as the mysterious woman on the farm trying to protect her son played by Pierce Gagnon who gives one of the strongest performances of a small child I can remember in recent years.

Then there are the people from the “looper” organization with Paul Dano as Joe’s friend -a fellow looper in trouble; Jeff Daniels as a calmly sinister man from the future who manages and organizes the hits; and Johnson regular, Noah Segan as the organization’s incompetent enforcer. 

Rian Johnson is a talented writer-director who takes familiar aspects of thrillers like action, violence, suspense and humor –and refreshes them. This movie caught me off guard several times. You should know before going to see it that the violence is indeed brutal but it has an impact which most action movies lack. 

Listen to an interview with Rian Johnson on Weekend Edition.

Johnson’s 2005 indie-hit, Brick, was an unusual film noir taken far away from the genre’s typical environment. Then he did a bizarre dark comedy called The Brothers Bloom about international con artists. He’s also directed three remarkable episodes of Breaking Bad. His work has quite a range but always seems to involve crime, guys with guns, and nostalgia for old movies.

Aside from a couple cast members, he also brings back other collaborators like his brother, Nathan, who does this film’s score and cinematographer Steve Yedlin who continues to shoot on 35mm film, and in the case of this project, with a scope lens, which makes it look terrific.

Getting back to this film’s time travel logic, it doesn’t work. But if it did, this film would have to throw out one of its most terrifying scenes, which would be a crime.

Check out David Edelstien's review.


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