A time-traveling knockout.
There’s an old saying that 90% of everything is crap. This was probably first said about Hollywood. Thankfully the internet has made it much simpler to wade through the filth and find the exceptional 10%. Now I’m a huge fan of young director Rian Johnson. He is a staple in the online film community (he takes time to interact with fans, appears on podcasts and is a prolific tweeter) and has helped foster a culture that values finding that 10%. It also helps that he is a seriously prolific filmmaker (see his first two features: Brick and The Brothers Bloom.) And with his new film, Looper, Mr. Johnson has officially cemented himself as the up-and-coming director to watch in Hollywood.
The plot is simple on the surface. The year is 2044 and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper. His job is to kill for the mob, unmercifully. Though the way he kills, has a slight wrinkle. You see, 30 years in the future time travel has been invented and because of its immense power been completely outlawed. The only people that use it are the mob. When someone gets out of line they send them back to Joe’s era, where he blows them away with one quick shot of his Blunderbuss (a cool gigantic future shotgun.) He then collects his money from the back of his victims and joins his fellow Loopers at the club for some less-than jovial partying.
We learn through a disturbingly upbeat murder montage that in the world of time travel we all have a “loop.” And because of the invention of time travel these “loops” have the ability to be closed (your future self can be killed.) This is called, “closing-the-loop.” When a Looper does this they kill their future selves…they receive a massive payday and are allowed to live their remaining years in luxury. When old Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back to be killed by young Joe, young Joe flinches and lets his future self escape.
Lost yet? Trust me it could’ve gotten Inception-level messy really fast but Johnson doesn’t lay on the exposition nearly as thick as Nolan did in his dreamscape. Instead he lets the story unfold organically, choosing for the twists to occur visually. This is a bold choice in the era of bloated action blockbusters and Johnson knocks it out of the park. He’s never treated his audience like they are idiots and while this is a densely plotted picture I was never lost or befuddled. Best of all, he tells his ambitious tale in UNDER-2-HOURS.
Johnson’s vision of future America is not a pretty one either. Crime is rampant and the streets reflect it. If The Hunger Games has any guts I imagine its world would have looked something like this. Garbage is piling up everywhere, there doesn’t seem to be any law enforcement or visible government influence and everyone (I mean everyone) owns a gun. We get brief glimpses into the future but I can’t say they are any more promising. The present day political allegory isn’t subtle but I do appreciate Johnson wearing it on his sleeve.
Looper also continues the stellar year for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The man seems to be in everything and his performance here is a blast. Complete with young Bruce Willis makeup (a choice that’s a little funky at first but actually works great) JGL does more than a basic impression of the actor; he really embodies the Willis persona. The steely stare, the pursed lips, he nails it. When he and Willis get their first real face-to-face discussion it’s riveting. Willis is right at home with this material but he is surprisingly capable in the films darker and more romantic scenes. A scruffy Jeff Daniels plays young Joe’s boss Abe. I wasn’t convinced initially by casting Daniels as a villain but he’s very disarming which makes him extremely menacing. Emily Blunt rounds out the principal cast (although she doesn’t arrive until half way through the film) as young Joe’s love interest. She carries the weight of a very dark secret nicely and pulls off a slight southern accent better than most of the cast of Lawless.
Looper – and this should not be understated – is an absolute thrill. Johnson has taken many elements of the standard thriller, mixed in a dash of time-travel, mobster intrigue and horror for a concoction that is familiar on the surface but also wholly unique. Coupled with an emotional depth that’s rarely seen in modern day sci-fi it’s hard not to be moved by Looper’s lofty aspirations. Simply put…see it now.
What My Wife Thought: It’s an amazing time travel movie experience! And I LOVE time travel movies. I’m still putting the pieces together in my head, days after the seeing the movie.