There are two ways that I could write a review for Looper, the new sci-fi film from writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom). Here’s the first:
HOLY SHIT – THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!
But, you see, I know you expect more from us here at Man, I Love Films and more specifically, yours truly. So I will not settle for the bare minimum, even though, when it comes down to it, that’s really all you need to know. This film is flat-out fantastic, from the performances to the visuals to the mostly-show/rarely-tell nature of its plot that leaves you guessing at every turn. It’s gripping, intense, and altogether one of the best science fiction movies to come our way in some time.
The film takes place in Kansas in the year 2044. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a “looper,” a hitman assigned to kill mob victims sent back in time. You see, time travel hasn’t been invented yet in 2044, but 30 years later (2074), it will have been. These loopers arrive at a particular place and when the to-be-killed arrives, they take them out with one shot, dispose of their bodies, and take home their money. Joe lives a drug-addled life, passing time with call girls and club outings. But he’s good at what he does, so he’s able to put some money away and he looks forward to a time when he may not have to do all this anymore.
But things start going awry when a future overlord called The Rainmaker starts “closing the loops,” essentially sending the same loopers back in time so that their younger selves will kill them, sealing their fate, and being sent on their way for the next 30 years before the inevitable happens. Joe’s older self shows up in the form of Bruce Willis (and who wouldn’t want to grow up to be Bruce Willis?!?) and instead of showing him Death’s Door, Joe’s plans are foiled by, well, Joe, when Willis changes things up and escapes from JoGo’s grasps.
The film then moves in several different directions that the trailers, thankfully, did not give away. And I will certainly not give away anything because, like I mentioned, the film constantly keeps you guessing. There was more than one occasion where I could see people in the rows in front of me leaning over to their friends, asking what was going on. It’s not overly confusing, it just holds secrets. Emily Blunt’s character doesn’t even appear until halfway through the movie but she proves to be imperative to the film’s final act, and yet she’s mostly absent from the film’s promotions. It’s a welcome decision by the filmmakers to be sneaky, not giving away too much, and letting us discover it all for ourselves.
So, in the most general way possible, let me just tell you that if you have any interest in science-fiction, time travel, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you need to check it out and literally as soon as possible. Rian Johnson creates a world that is a cross between believable and fantastical, with an attention to detail that makes everything work. JoGo is in top notch form, pulling off the young-Bruce Willis part about as well as could have been hoped. While some are going to get bogged down in his facial makeup and everything (this might have been a discussion on our LAMBcast discussion this morning…) I chose to just enjoy the fact that they changed his appearance to make it more believable that this young man could grow into the older man that is Bruce Willis. And he does some great work here, showing us why he’s easily one of the best young actors out there today. (Note: I originally wrote “20-something” to describe JoGo but it turns out he’s 31. Hmm. Interesting.)
Bruce Willis is phenomenal as Older Joe. His version of the character goes through a ton of strife throughout the film (albeit some by his own hand) and he handles it all like the all-star actor we always loved. While Willis has never been an award-winner (I mean, he’s more famous for being an awesome action star, obviously) he brings his A-game here, maybe spurred on by the material on tap here. Emily Blunt, sporting a mid-western accent that masks any trace of her normal British accent, is dark and mysterious in the role of Sarah. Her farm is the home of much of the last half of the film and there’s so much more than meets the eye with her. And I can’t go any further without mentioning young Pierce Gagnon, who plays the role of Cid, Sarah’s son. Child actors can completely ruin a movie, and easily at that, but here, they somehow found the greatest child actor on the planet for this essential role. It obviously saves the movie from moving into parody territory to have both a child actor who can hold his own and strong actors who can act well opposite that child. The performances are essential to the film’s success and everyone involved (I didn’t even mention small but affecting performances by the likes of Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels) steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park.
Obviously there is much to be discussed with a movie like this once you’ve seen it. The ending will leave you with questions and my answers might be different than yours. It creates discussions that could carry on for hours (see: Next week’s LAMBcast) and even then, you still haven’t covered all of the bases! Unlike Prometheus, a much different film from earlier this year that also brought about lengthy conversations, albeit about the origin of life, Looper brings up fun and entertaining conversations that only come from a concept involving time travel. The whole concept is always enjoyable because it never fully makes sense and will always leave you wondering how to look at everything that’s happening. Are there plot holes? Yes. Are there potentially story-deflating aspects that are skipped over? Of course. But, in a could-be-seen-as-lazy, could-be-seen-as-genius moment between the two Joes, the characters themselves disregard the brain-melting idea of diving into the particulars of their actions and how it will change their collective well-being. And for me, there was plenty of exposition provided that allowed me to look past any slight that someone might want to nitpick.
The first thing I thought when the screen went black was, quite simply, “wow.” Looper is a film that begs to be seen again, to be dissected by its viewers, and to ultimately be appreciated for the awesome movie that it is. There are flaws, sure, but it just hits so many right notes that it’s easier for me to look at the brilliance behind Rian Johnson’s best work so far. Take my favorite shot of the entire movie, for example: the Joes are sharing a meal at a diner as they discuss their next moves and what they should be doing and why. Bruce Willis pulls out his pocket watch, opens it up, and makes a remark about time or something. The watch is ticking as it should when it opens, and he holds it open for a moment. Then Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks down to his pocket, which houses the same watch, but a much newer version. Despite being closed up in a state of rest, it ticks loud enough for him to hear it.
Now, I took this to be a moment where Johnson wanted us to see cause-and-effect reigning supreme (Willis’ watch being opened and ticking causing Gordon-Levitt’s to do the same thing). Maybe I’m looking for something that’s not really there, but when it comes to a movie like this, that cause-and-effect concept is so important. And for me, if the film itself can be seen as the cause, then the effect that it had on me ultimately lies somewhere between admiration and awe. Looper, easily one of the best movies of the year, succeeds on every level, leaving me wishing only for the ability to go back in time and re-live seeing it again for the first time.
But, you see, there’s this thing about time travel…