Genre(s): Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Director(s): Rian Johnson
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Looper is a film that could have spiraled out of control at any moment either with its introduction of new sci-fi elements throughout the first hour, or its slightly complex use of time travel which is the emphasis of the science fiction portion of this film. The reason nothing went into disarray is because it was expertly written, keeping itself grounded as much as it could while delivering the viewer with a world to sink its teeth into. What Looper does to surpass itself from merely being an incredibly visceral sci-fi and action experience, is it delivers character development and individual moments that transcend what is already a pretty packed film full of interesting ideas and motifs. It’s hard not to instantly compare the film to others such as Twelve Monkeys, Inception and even The Matrix, but I think that’s what Johnson does best is pull the vibe from other films and source materials (he read a lot of Philip K. Dick before writing this) then incorporate them into a film that feels wholly his own.
One of those traits that makes any Rian Johnson film feel like his own is the visual cues within the movie. There are always lots of close-ups and emphasis on showing the emotional impact of something through the actors’ face. This time around, there’s more action than you will have seen in Brick and The Brothers Bloom, but it still feels slightly reminiscent to the former, in part due to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s return as the main protagonist. But never is there a shot that feels wasted in this film, even if it is just Emily Blunt cutting a tree, because there’s always some meaning behind the shot or reason why it needs to be shown. The visual aesthetic of Looper ups the ante of the previous Johnson films though because it now gets to do interesting things with the scenery and utilize more props because of its sci-fi action roots. There’s a scene involving Garret Dillahunt which impressed me, and nearly everyone else in my screening, as well as another one involving Frank Brennan which will be hard to forget for a long time.
The story is what will attract everyone to see this film: Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is an assassin who kills people sent back from the future by the mob, then disposes of the body and gets to live a lavish lifestyle. These kind of people are referred to as ‘loopers’ and when the mob wants to terminate a looper’s contract, they send back themselves from 30 years later to kill, effectively ‘closing the loop’. If you let your future self escape, you let your ‘loop run’, which will result in both versions being hunted down. Bruce Willis plays the older version of Joe, sent back to be killed by his younger self. Things don’t go as planned though and the younger Joe is forced to try and catch his older self and kill him. Later we’re introduced to Emily Blunt’s character, Sara, who is a telekinetic living on a farm with her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). I don’t want to go too much into the story because one of the things that makes the film so great are its revelations and how they are revealed. Things such as telekinesis are even more effective in the second half of the film, and the action beats are well executed from a director who hasn’t really had to deliver a similar sequence in his previous efforts.
And while the story may be what attracts everyone to Looper, it is ultimately the characters and themes that will bind the viewer to the experience. Younger Joe’s transformation from selfish to selfless is what sticks, but there’s more to this science fiction film. There’s many questions asked throughout the film that will engage and provoke, and bits of conversation that will stick for a while. What really bolsters the film though, are the strong performances by everyone, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. For a small minority it may be hard to get past what Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks like in the movie, but it just goes to show just what lengths he will go to in order to fully immerse himself in the role. Bruce Willis plays perfectly fine in the film, but isn’t really given much time to act with the exception of a conversation between himself and his younger incarnation, and a beautifully shot time-lapse sequence showing the evolution from younger Joe to older Joe. Instead he revels in his action tough-guy role, giving brief moments of humanity to his character, but showing the ruthlessness he is willing to employ to get done what he needs to. Jeff Daniels also plays an important role in the film as the head person hunting down both versions of Joe, and he tends to be the comedic relief in the movie (“I’m from the future. Go to China” is just one of many great lines he gets).
Every piece of dialogue is also masterfully handled because Johnson is very good at almost every aspect of screenwriting, being able to deliver a tight script with perhaps some minor incongruities and flaws. The fact is though, no matter what minor flaw you pull from the logic of his film, Looper remains a refreshing, and near-perfect execution of a science-fiction film. A lot of similarities can be found with other sci-fi films, but Looper doesn’t force itself into being a straight-up sci-fi flick, instead leaning towards more character-driven sequences that flesh out the movie into an overall enjoyable feast of action and drama. Hopefully this film sees the box office success it deserves because Johnson is better than your average director and should see more praise. Ideally, this would have been released as a summer film to help make up for the poor summer line-up that we received, but instead it serves as the bridge between summer action flick and awards season drama, both literally and figuratively.