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Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Bruce Willis face off in Rian Johnson's 'Looper'

By Michael Murphy,
Indie director Johnson explodes into the public eye with his mind-bending new sci-fi actioner
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“This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg.”

Time is a perplexing force, one that is uncontrollable and perpetually surrounding us. It’s an entity that demands our complete compliance because it never stops or gives us a moment to breathe. It moves along and threatens to leave us behind, and also has a way of working directly against us, specifically when we try to take control. In the popular sci-fi conceit of time travel, characters are directly tormented by the repercussions of trying to manipulate time. In Rian Johnson’s ambitious new film, Looper, time creates an extraordinary predicament for Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is forced into a violent battle of wits, strength and futuristic psychology against a highly formidable enemy: His future self.

In the year 2042, a special syndicate of employed assassins known as Loopers have the job of altering the timeline by disposing of targets from the future that are sent back to them via time travel, a science that has yet to be invented in the time of the Loopers and has been outlawed by the time the black market exploits it. The hits are zapped back to the Loopers, who are notified and stationed at the location where the future persons will appear, and they use their Blunderbusses (an inaccurate, but effective at close range, futuristic shotgun) to stop the person from ever existing and eliminating them from the future. However, Joe has broken a major rule within the Looper community: He has let his loop run. This means that the mob that he is employed by that exists thirty years in the future has sent Joe his final target: A thirty-years-older Joe (Bruce Willis). By killing your future self you close your loop and the mob’s tracks are covered because that particular Looper, in theory, never ends up living past 2072 and can never be linked to the disappearance and murder of any person. This is a catch that Loopers must agree to upon being hired. On the run from his fellow Loopers and present day boss (Jeff Daniels), Joe is determined to finish his job by tracking down his older self, who has plans of his own regarding fixing the crippled future that he has come from.

During most of the film’s first half, I excitedly deemed Looper this generation’s Blade Runner. In the end, that loaded any premature statement was not wholly proven, but it still comes close. Back to the Future installed a nearly foolproof blueprint for crafting time-travel flicks, so whenever a new time-travel venture decides to stray away from that formula and its catches (paradoxes, timeline changes, fixing the past or destroying the future, etc.), some plot holes are sure to form. The ultimate resolution (regarding the conclusion to a storyline that becomes prominent past the halfway point) is also made just a little too obvious early on so that when the buildup occurs, after an act two tonal change, the film starts to meander much more than it should, drifting away from the morality conundrum that most viewers are anxious to see. This loss in momentum, however, is made up for by the slam-bang climax, one that is finely executed and contextually satisfying. The characters’ decisions are sure to surprise most viewers.

Rian Johnson continues to astound as a filmmaking talent, directing his third feature again from his own script. After exploding onto the indie scene in 2005, Looper further supports Johnson’s ingenuity and creativity behind a camera. Having worked on AMC’s Breaking Bad in the interim between The Brothers Bloom and Looper has instilled in him a bold insistence to test the visual angles that audience members get to perceive the story from. While Looper may not be Johnson’s best film (surpassing Brick is no easy feat), the direction is of a professional caliber that will definitely make Johnson a more well-known and well-regarded filmmaker (and will make fans of his admire him even more). As a writer, the dialogue is strong; the story is a highly original genre-bending head-scratcher with layers of character development, featuring the always busy and reliable Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his third film collaboration with Johnson, action legend Bruce Willis, and the beautiful Emily Blunt in an underdeveloped role.

There’s that story about how Charlie Chaplin once won third prize in a Charlie Chaplin Look-a-Like contest, well Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a Bruce Willis impression so good that a remake of Die Hard is almost warranted. Gordon-Levitt’s makeup may be off-putting for some, but when placed side-by-side, the facial similarities are uncanny and the slight nuances that Willis has recycled throughout his expansive career are mimicked undeniably by the youthful veteran actor. As for Willis, he puts in his second best performance of the year (he’s in six movies this year for those of you counting at home) behind his against-type role in the fantastic Moonrise Kingdom. He has always been an actor to thrive on action, which is why I value his tender performances far more than the excessive actioners he stars in, and luckily he possesses a few dramatic moments in Looper that are pretty moving. But when we cut back to JGL, the young actor’s charisma is unmatched. Emily Blunt is handed a fairly one-dimensional character and only appears during the film’s overall less impressive second half. She’s present to play little more than the expected love interest and while many could argue that that’s a fault that lies with Johnson, Paul Dano’s Seth, another Looper and friend of younger Joe’s, appears in less than the film’s first twenty minutes and is far more memorable than Blunt.

Time is not the friendliest of constructs and tends to work against us more times than not, but Rian Johnson, who is one superhero adaptation away from being the second coming of Christopher Nolan, is one of the very lucky few who have deconstructed and tamed time. Looper is an exhilarating and highly intelligent science fiction film that synthesizes a number of genres; it’s fresh, edgy, and, actually, very dark for the majority of the picture. Even when the flick forgets to close all of its loops, it’s undeniably thought provoking, fiercely engaging, and gushing with creativity and imagination. The unconventionality of Johnson’s style is something that has trickled through all of his feature work, he’s a modern director of novelty; his upcoming projects are consistently something that I sanguinely anticipate.

8/10

 

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