LOOPER Review

It is an understatement to say I was excited for Looper. As a fan of the science fiction genre it is always nice to see what seems to be a smart, legitimate sci-fi flick get good treatment from the studio system. It is clear these aren't always appealing to a mass audience but when they are made right, and with visionary directors at the charge of them they can easily be the most captivating of journeys on film. While my preference goes toward things that venture further into the cosmos, Looper is a piece of time travel bonanza that is escalated by so many different elements that are so much better than you expect them to be that the entire film rises from its own genre trappings and becomes something entirely fresh. Fresh is one of the hardest words to come by when we think of the future these days. Our ideas of what it should be, what it will look like, what it should contain have all been shaped by movies that have come before. As we now live in a future that was imagined by moviemakers twenty years ago, it only makes the task of developing an authentic, non-CG created world set even further in the future all the more challenging. Writer and director Rian Johnson has risen to that challenge, realizing that  the world develops but not with the major overhaul that most future-set films would like to imply. The world in 2044 is still very much one we recognize and can see the place we live in now transitioning to. It is all in the little details that add credibility to the films filthy landscape. Moving past that, Johnson also gives his characters quick, intelligent dialogue to ring off at one another while not getting overly wrapped up in the semantics of the consequences that will naturally come along when we begin tampering with things that should never have been touched with such hands in the first place.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hired gun who kills
men sent back from the future.
While the set up of the film may sound a bit standard: time travel exists. A guy meets himself from the future. No big deal right? Seen it before, probably know where it's going. That is what makes Looper great. Though we've seen these tricks before, and in much worse fashion, Johnson has fleshed out a film where the set up incorporates time travel but doesn't allow it to drive the narrative. As an audience we are introduced to Joe in 2044 (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young, hired gun whose job it is as a "looper" to instantly kill anyone the mob decides to send back in time to him. You see, time travel does not yet exist in 2044 either, but it does in the future. It was immediately outlawed and is only available for use on the black market. The mobs use it to dispose of guys they need taken care of and sending a man back in time to die immediately erases him from the future leaving no body for evidence. As young Joe, Gordon-Levitt wears a mug that allows us to believe he could age into Bruce Willis. He also incorporates a nice gravel into his youthful voice that hints at the extent the actor likely went in order to help us genuinely see the evolution of a man. Naturally, things are destined to fall apart. One can only expect this to happen when mere men attempt to take on the power of Gods. When a new mob boss in the future decides to start "closing loops" i.e. sending the older version of the looper back in time to kill himself; things get messy and future Joe (Willis) no longer likes the deal he made as a young man. The loopers receive a hefty reward for closing their loop and are relieved of their duties, but are burdened by what they know is coming. Even with the trailer you may think you know exactly where the film is heading but there are several different layers to the film that as it unfolds reveals to its audience that this is more epic moral tale than a futuristic effects fest.

Joe is taken off guard when his older self (Bruce Willis)
is the one he has to kill.
Director Johnson's first feature was the well-reviewed and often underrated Brick while his second, The Brothers Bloom, was certainly underrated and I enjoyed it much more than everyone else around me seemed to. What always stood out about the two though was the fact of how different they were and as he adds Looper to his canon it is clear the diversity informs the intelligence of his scripts and their defiance to be confined to what would otherwise feel like a standard romp through script writing 101. While the design of the film is appealing and captures a perfect overall tone to the film the soundtrack feels a bit off if not flat out cheesy at some points. Other times, it's great and when a smooth jazz number slides perfectly against the tough images we're seeing on screen a sense of cool oozes off the actors. It is in more typical, action-oriented scenes that the orchestral music doesn't give a good build-up or feels as if a single loop (no pun intended) was thrown in out of nowhere to emphasize the moment. The action scenes themselves can also at times feel a bit clunky in their direction. These are minor complaints though as from the opening shot, even the opening title, we are hooked by what is unfolding on screen because the movie has style and smarts. Not to mention, the performances are great from everyone involved. Not only does Gordon-Levitt cement his status as a force to be reckoned he proves he can pretty much do anything. He makes Joe a man we don't necessarily like, but who we still understand and come to sympathize with. Willis will likely go overlooked in the smaller, less flashier role here but he does some great subdued work here. After phoning in performances in The Expendables 2 and the horrible Cold Light of Day Willis fully realizes what began as a great year with his moving turn in Moonrise Kingdom. In Looper, he plays the older, wiser version of a man who we think we already know and when it turns out we don't, the ride becomes even more exhilarating.

Sara (Emily Blunt) has a secret on her secluded farm
she is intent on keeping.
In an aspect that has been largely ignored in the marketing campaign Emily Blunt also shows up here to provide some of her best work of the year and there has been a lot of it. Though I have yet to see Your Sister's Sister others like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Five Year Engagement were good enough if not slightly underwhelming. Here, though Blunt pulls off a flawless American accent and stands as a pillar for what the state of society is in this time period. She is beaten down, desperate, and has likely thought about giving up and giving in multiple times yet she keeps on going looking towards a beacon of hope that might make tomorrow better than today. She is an inspiring character and for as central as the story is to Joe, Blunt's Sara feels like the heart of the film. There are also smaller appearances from the likes of Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels who add a flair to the rollicking first act of the film. In the end though, what the greatness of Looper comes down to is the originality and the unusual path the script takes. It is a witty film that though it has a very serious meaning and a hard-edged exterior never seems to take itself too seriously. It is a refreshing entry in the sci-fi realm that along with Source Code and Sound of My Voice have added real credibility and new ideas to a genre that had become quite lacking. This all lends itself to a film that when you walk out of it will leave you more than satisfied. The problem it leaves you with is that in its few shortcomings it leaves you wanting more and even though you immediately want to go back and watch it again to dig deeper into the details you secretly just want it to keep going, to keep giving. But, as the main theme of the film explains so well, sometimes we have to sacrifice our own wants and needs for the greater good. Too much of a good thing is anything but, and Looper delivers just the right amount to hold us over until Johnson creates his next film.