Looper (2012) / Sci Fi-Thriller

MPAA rated: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality, nudity, and drug content
Running time: 118 min.

Cast: Joseoph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Pierce Gagnon, Qing Ju, Tracie Thomas, Garret Dillahunt
Cameo: Rian Johnson
Director: Rian Johnson
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Review published October 11, 2012

Looper 2012 rian johnsonAnother intriguing entry by writer-director Rian Johnson, who follows up the critically acclaimed Brick and The Brothers Bloom with what is perhaps his best effort yet.  It's a nifty idea that is actually backed up with an erudite story, and while the narrative isn't perfect in pace or plausibility, Johnson manages to side skirt the obvious pitfalls of time-travel films with throwing enough action and suspense to keep audiences on edge throughout.  In this movie realm, the future is not set in stone, and people of the future can't assume that what happens in the past won't affect them, as it comes to be shown that people of the future indeed are able to make major changes to the future through what initially appears to be a minor adjustment to the past.

Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, GI Joe) as Joe, a highly paid hit-man hired in the year 2044 to kill masked and bound victims sent his direction from 30 years in the future, where time travel has been invented, outlawed so that only outlaws use it (these assassins are called 'Loopers' for closing off a loop in the lives of others, and in particular, their future selves one day), where such crimes are nearly impossible to cover up. Joe's got it made, having saved nearly enough money to live out his dream of retiring comfortably in France when it all gets 'thrown for a loop' when his next victim is none other than himself 30 years older from the future (Willis, Cop Out), and old Joe gets away.  The syndicate responsible for the assassination game can't have loose threads about that will affect the future, so young Joe must snuff out old Joe before the elder can make any temporal changes, while the underground organization have their wolves out and about to snuff out both.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a fine performance, often emulating the vocal patterns of Bruce Willis, who plays the older Joe, quite well.  The (perhaps needless) make-up job employed seems a little less than realistic in terms of appearance, with his colored contacts, prosthetic nose, and altered lips.  Thankfully, for the most part, the look doesn't detract from the overall film much other than provide an occasional distraction when Levitt's mannerisms are too uncannily similar to Willis's (how's that for a backhanded compliment?) 

One of the most intriguing of the film's many conflicts is the dynamic between the younger and older Joe.  The younger only cares about the road ahead, but not about the ultimate destination.  He wants to close the loop in order for him to be able to experience all of the things his stored wealth can buy, so if it means he must snuff out the 30-years-older self, so be it, and the sooner the better with hit-men out to kill them both if it is unresolved.  Meanwhile, older Joe has lived this full life, though at great tragedy to the life of a loved one lost trying to protect him.  Older Joe can't convey how much life and love mean to his younger who has yet to experience them.  Added to the dynamic is that the elder must keep the younger alive, free from permanent harm, and relatively on the same track in order to actually have lived out these things and be able to remember them, so he must play the role of protector to the man who wants most desperately to snuff him out for good.

However, elder Joe is not exactly benevolent either.  In the grand Terminator tradition, he's come back in time to snuff out the kid who would become the most vicious gangster in his world, a man dubbed the "Rainmaker", who singlehandedly took over all of organized crime in a short amount of time, and who is out to stamp out all Loopers as quickly as possible.  He doesn't know who the kid is, just what hospital he was born in and the date, so he's off to blow the heads off of the unlucky tykes who happen to meet that unenviable statistic.  However, younger Joe befriends one of those kids, Cid (Gagnon, 'One Tree Hill'), while waiting for old Joe on a farm in Kansas, as well as the child's mother (Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau) -- who may not be his mother -- and protector, Sara (another Terminator homage?). 

The film is widely heralded by genre fans, and while I do enjoy it and solidly recommend Looper, Johnson's film does suffer from the occasional lull, particularly in the film's midsection when younger and older Joe confront one another verbally, as well as the pacing of the film running a bit loose to be truly gripping during the powerhouse finale, where the emotional content suffers from not having been fully developed.  Had that emotional content been given the same amount of screen time that lengthy explanations of how the Looper system works, we'd truly feel the anguish of Joe's future love's demise and how it shapes him, and the climax would come to a nail-biting finale that has tragic consequences in every direction.  Instead, all of these things remain primarily in the realm of the intellectual, and once the film ends, we view the events in terms of how interesting the story is and the many implications of some of the unrevealed moments, rather than truly feel for the characters and the agony they must surely feel in the moment.

Nevertheless, this is above average material that, for its flaws, delivers far more interest and choice twists than most science fiction of recent years, and solidifies Rian Johnson's reputation as someone capable of becoming the next Christopher Nolan in terms of his approach to storytelling among populist cinema.  Johnson proves you don't need giant robots and massive destruction to deliver quality science fiction.  Effects shots are sparse, which makes them that much more awe-inducing when they do occur.

Looper will start out as a cult flick for many, perhaps even a phenomenon for some time, though whether it becomes a science fiction classic may well be tied in to whether Johnson can break out and become a known entity to those not considered cinephiles. 

Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo