Film Review – Looper
I haven’t necessarily loved all of Rian Johnson’s movies, but I have always thought that he was an immensely talented filmmaker. His debut, with the modern noir Brick, was a treat across the board and instantly brought him widespread acclaim. Though his sophomore effort, The Brothers Bloom, failed to capture me with the story and casting, I did find the style and creativity of the movie to be masterful. It is should be no surprise, then, that his time travel thriller Looper would be high on the list of films I was eager about this year.
Set in 2042, the story follows Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hitman for the mob, known as a “looper.” Unlike in our regular idea of a hitman, he kills marks from the future (specifically, 2072). Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, the mob decides to “close his loop” and have him eliminate his future self (Bruce Willis) to eliminate any record of their association with him.
So far this year time travel has gotten off to a good start, with one of my favorite movies thus far being the indie hit Safety Not Guaranteed. While both films feature the topic, they approach it from completely different angles. Safety Not Guaranteed questioned whether time travel was possible, while Looper concedes that point from the beginning and instead focuses on the ramifications of a world where time travel exists. But both films use the subject as a backdrop for the bigger story, so the topic of time travel is mostly a means to an end.
Despite having gathered a lot of attention for his previous work, I feel like Rian Johnson appears to be on the cusp of breaking out in the mainstream. In Looper, he has done a fantastic job of crafting a dystopian future where the mob runs things…sort of like a mix between 12 Monkeys and Mad Max. His ability to deftly shift between genres for his films is among the elite, in company with people such as Gore Verbinski and Steven Spielberg. For his first true action film, he shows no signs of inexperience, and he raises it beyond just run-of-the-mill action with a complex and engaging plot. It helps that he has his muse Joseph Gordon-Levitt along for the ride to keep a solid baseline for consistency from his past work.
It is amazing to think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is only 31 years old. It feels like he has been around forever. Since 2005, his filmography has some of the most noteworthy performances for any actor—and yet he has never been nominated for an Academy Award or won any awards of major significance. It is unlikely that he will get nominated for his work here, but he continues to impress. He not only takes on the challenge of Rian Johnson’s curious story, but he also does an amazing job of channeling a younger Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt is the heart and soul of the movie, and shows why he has the unique ability to be both a dramatic powerhouse and an action star.
As outstanding as Gordon-Levitt is, he is not alone in creating the compelling world of Looper. Bruce Willis has one of his most meaningful performances since possibly Lucky Number Slevin in 2007, as he plays a broke man set on a mission. In the extended cast, Emily Blunt and Paul Dano continue to impress me with their performances, and do a great job as instigators in driving the plot forward. Finally, continuing his recent renaissance, Jeff Daniels is unnerving as the mob leader in 2042 who is able to control people without even needing to resort to violence.
Still, for the first time since The Dark Knight Rises I found myself feeling the length of a movie. That isn’t to say Looper’s run time even approaches that of The Dark Knight Rises, but the story is so full of twists and turns that I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take to resolve everything. Ultimately it comes together in a nice package, but the pace of the journey was a bit erratic at times. Additionally, one of the main points during production was the prosthetics worn by Joseph Gordon-Levitt to look more like Bruce Willis. Frankly, not only did I feel they were unnecessary, but it was kind of distracting at times. I would’ve been totally cool if they had just skipped doing it and I don’t think it would’ve hurt my feelings toward the film.
It is challenging to discuss a film that you want to avoid spoiling; this is one of those movies it is a treat to be surprised by. While it isn’t quite as philosophical as films like The Matrix and Inception, I still feel that it could potentially create a lot of discussion about what occurs. This is one film that can’t simply be summarized in 800 words.
Final Grade: A-