Sunday, February 21, 2016

Looper (2012)

Director: Rian Johnson                                    Writer: Rian Johnson
Film Score: Nathan Johnson                           Cinematography: Steve Yedlin
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels

I had heard about Looper when it first came out, but I wasn’t prepared for how odd Joseph Gordon-Levitt looked, and it bothered me for quite a while . . . until I finally realized he was supposed to look like a young Bruce Willis. After that, the makeup seemed pretty impressive--though really, Bruce Willis always looked like Bruce Willis when he was young, and not a bit like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Writer-director Rian Johnson had done couple of minor films and directed a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad, but this is really his breakout film. What will become of him as a result remains to be seen. His science-fiction crime drama has a lot of problems in terms of the central conflict and understanding the narrative, but it is fun to watch. The film opens with Gordon-Levitt waiting in a field in front of a tarp spread out on the grass. After a minute he readies his sawed-off shotgun and suddenly a man appears, hooded and bound on his knees, whereupon Gordon-Levitt promptly shoots him and disposes of the body. The narrative begins thirty years in the future, a time when time-travel is not possible. But it is invented thirty years after that and immediately outlawed. So organized crime secretly uses it to get rid of enemies by sending them to the past where people like Gordon-Levitt dispose of them.

Along with the bodies are ingots of silver that the loopers--the hit men from the past--exchange at a pawnshop for the money of their day. The current time period is a dystopia of sorts, with the inhabitants of Earth mostly poor, except for the loopers. Gordon-Levitt picks up a fellow looper, the high-strung Paul Dano, to go out one night and he begins levitating a quarter, introducing another element of the plot: telekinesis. It’s something that comes into play later, but means nothing early on. Where things become complicated is the idea of “closing the loop.” The future mob knows that at some point the killers from the past will eventually age to the point where they coexist with the future timeline. To avoid that, as well as the ability of aging loopers to inform on their illegal activities, including time travel, they send the older version of the looper back to the past to be killed by themselves, thus completing the circle. Their “suicide” even comes complete with a large supply of silver to keep the looper comfortable until the future catches up with him. When a frightened Dano comes to Gordon-Levitt’s door one night he confesses that he let his loop “run.” The answer to that is simple for the mob, but it’s not killing Dano.

In the signature moment of the film, a really nice scene, Dano’s older self, Frank Brennan, is on the run and suddenly he notices his arm has been heavily scared with a message telling him where to be in 15 minutes. It means that they have his younger self and have cut him to convey the message. He doesn’t heed the warning and then notices that his fingers are vanishing one at a time. It’s a harrowing discovery about what is gradually happening to his younger self. Now driving as fast as he can to get to the meeting, he loses his nose and then a foot, causing him to crash. By the time he crawls to the doorway his legs and arms have disappear, and he’s shot by Noah Segan while a surgeon in the background finishes amputating Dano. When it’s Gordon-Levitt’s turn to have his loop closed, he hesitates because Bruce Willis isn’t wearing a hood. Willis gets his back turned in time and the shotgun blast hits the silver, then he throws a bar and reaches Gordon-Levitt and knocks him out. When he wakes up, he has a note from Willis on him telling him to hop a train and run. Instead he heads back to his apartment, but the mob has beat him to it and kills him trying to escape. But that is just his imagination wondering what would happen if he doesn’t kill Willis, and when he really does arrive he kills him, takes his money, and then begins to live out his thirty years.

But the story is only a half-hour old at this point and the remaining two-thirds of the film, while thrilling, is almost like a different movie when the two meet Emily Blunt and her son. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a passable job as Bruce Willis, though it must be said that there are long stretches in the beginning where it’s easy to forget that’s who he is. Some of the actors--like present mob hit man Noah Segan and especially the eye-roll inducing Jeff Daniels as the present mob boss--are not very good. But the dialogue is believable, for the most part, and the acting by all the principals is solid. Bruce Willis is in more of a supporting role, which is a good thing. Emily Blunt does a nice job with the American accent, and Pierce Gagnon does a magnificent turn as her telekinetic son. The story is an original one by Rian Johnson and, while the climax seems a little too reminiscent of Firestarter, the ending is breathtaking. It’s an impressive idea. Rather than spending a lot of time on the nuances of time travel, Johnson wanted to make a character driven film, and in that he succeeded. The images have some nice color tinting, washed out in the daytime but difficult to replicate in the night shots, and a serviceable but unmemorable score by Johnson’s cousin, Nathan Johnson. Overall, however, Looper is a tremendous accomplishment and one that gets even better on repeated viewings. It comes highly recommended.

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