Those of you who know me, know that I've been singing the praises of Rian Johnson since Brick. The man knows how to craft stylized and engaging characters as well as intricately labyrinthine plots. His films are ones you have to watch more than once and their stories whisper in your ear long after you've left the theater. The art and music for his films are often created by family members, giving each film an intimate and handmade feel. Simply put, he's talented and his films are special.
His latest film Looper is no exception.
In the future of 2044 time travel has not been invented, but it will be in thirty years. The only time machine in existence is used by a criminal organization to transport undesirable people back to be killed by Loopers, specialized assassins. When you close your contract with the organization, you have to close your loop ,which means killing your future self. But what happens when your loop gets away?
Let me start the review of Looper by saying that the big budget film that all the trailers and banners are selling you, is not the movie they made. Whomever cut the trailer together, did their job well and managed to create a sizzle reel that features every action oriented part of this movie. In truth what audiences are treated to is far different. Looper is not a sprawling, dystopian, sci-fi epic. It is, however, an intimate film that uses believable characters to express big ideas.
Joseph Gordon-Leavitt plays Joe, a looper who only lives for the moment. By his own admission, “This job doesn’t tend to attract the most forward thinking people”. Joe is no exception, he has plans to move to France but hasn’t thought beyond the move. He clearly doesn’t think about the future and what role his actions play in it. Bruce Willis plays Joe’s future-self, a man who has the benefit of hindsight. Old Joe has finally found meaning toward the end of his existence and after seeing that meaning stripped away from him, he’s now willing to kill to get it back. This dynamic is what Looper is all about. What would you be willing to kill for? Every character in this film has a cause they would kill for and all of them oppose each other. Because of this, we are treated to beautiful and violent character moments that examine the very nature of destiny.
If this film has one drawback, it’s that the time travel aspect gets fuzzy upon closer examination. However, it’s not about the time travel, it’s about the relationships and even with the dodgy conceit, characters work even if the sci-fi doesn’t. Because this film is a small look at the lives of a select few, it uses its characters to glorious effect. Every character in this film has a purpose. Paul Dano plays Seth, Joe’s best friend, with such sniveling perfection that he would make Peter Lorre proud. Noah Segan plays a character called Kid Blue, a slow-witted gunman, reminiscent of a character out of a John Ford western and Piper Perabo is a beautiful working girl trying to support her family. As with his previous films, Johnson has taken characters and archetypes from cinema’s past and placed them in a world that is fresh and new. We sympathize for all of these characters because we feel like we know them.
I should warn some of you that this film is violent and has some genuine, cringe-worthy moments. Looper earns it’s “R” rating, but the violence is never needless. Scenes of this kind don’t happen often but when they do, they linger in your mind. I think you’ll find the self-mutilation of Joe a rather clever and new idea that compliments the notion of time travel.
The best science fiction has something to say about human issues both internal and external and Looper does both extremely well. The characters examine their own desires against the effect those goals have on the future. Looper is a film that you will be thinking about and dissecting long after you exit the theater. From the small character moments to the larger concepts, this film worms it’s way inside your head and doesn’t leave.