Oct 3, 2012

'LOOPER' Leaves Me Wanting More From Rian Johnson

I saw LOOPER over the weekend, and let me tell ya - it was one of the most solid films I've seen all year. It's the kind of movie that makes me wish the Academy had more love for genre flicks. What writer/director Rian Johnson has accomplished is nothing short of amazing.

Now, will it play this well for everyone? Probably not. Inevitably, there will be those that feel it should have been more of the action flick the trailers promised, that it is slower paced than they had hoped. There will be others who have a problem with the concept as a whole, never buying into the need to send people back in time to be killed. Others, still, will declare it a ripoff of some other flick (TERMINATOR seems to be the goto in this case) and spew hatred on all of us who sing its praises.

That last group can be ignored, in my opinion, as they seem to be nothing more than the contrarian trolls that haunt movie blog comment sections. As for the others, I guess this was never going to be their kind of film in the first place. As for me, I find very little to hate about LOOPER. It's the kind of smart, original sci fi that I have been clamoring for. Rian Johnson has proven himself an able director before with BRICK and THE BROTHERS BLOOM, but with LOOPER, he has made himself a director to watch for years to come. I can honestly say that I will be buying a ticket for his next film, and I have no idea what that might be.

I'm gonna try to be pretty spoiler free in my review, but, rest assured, I will be writing more on this film in the future- after most people have gotten a chance to see this monumental picture.

At the center of this film is Joseph Gordon Levitt as Joe. His is a hard life, full of drugs, whores, and a whole lot of killing people. He's a Looper, a specialized assassin that kills people sent to him from the future. Loopers are paid well, with their biggest payday coming when they make their last hit - their future selves. Bruce Willis plays Old Joe, a more mature version of his younger self, who upsets the balance of things when he manages to escape his execution at the hands of Young Joe.

Sound confusing? Well, it isn't. One of the things that makes this one of the best time travel films I've ever seen (and I've seen A LOT) is how neatly everything is handled. A lot of the usual questions about the nature of travelling through time pop up, and all of them are handled very well without having to slog through tons of exposition. This may be one of the best movies on the subject in that regard. As much as I love BACK TO THE FUTURE, there are tons of plot holes big enough to fly a DeLorean through in those films. This one - not so much.

Both actors do some of their best work here, especially Levitt. Through the use of makeup, the filmmakers really make him look like a believable younger version of Willis. The real winning element on this front, though, is in the mannerisms and vocal characteristics Levitt adopts. You can see Bruce's signature facial ticks in Levitt throughout the film, and, as an actor myself, it really impressed me.

Willis is in top form, too. His Joe is not only older, but wiser in some ways. His motivations are different, and at first glance, he seems to be a lot less selfish than his younger self. He didn't just escape execution to save himself, he's got a mission of his own. Willis shows more range in this than he does in some of his other movies. His scenes of breakdown are really moving, and they make you feel for a character that's still not a very nice guy.

Also of note is Jeff Daniels as Abe, a man from the future that oversees Looper operations. His character is pretty funny, but the lighthearted demeanor is a front for the truly scary person that lies underneath the surface. He's the guy who pulled Joe off the streets and gave him a purpose. He seems to legitimately care for Joe, but he is definitely not someone to fuck with.

Make no mistake, this is not a pretty world. It's one in which people are shot down in the street, and vagrancy is a huge issue. One of the film's best qualities is in how real this dystopian future feels. This is due to both an excellent production design and a script that never over explains what led to these troubles. The audience just accepts that the world is this way in 2044 and moves with the flow.

Not that it's all gritty urban environments. Some of the film's best moments take place in more quaint surroundings. There's an excellent scene between the two Joes that takes place in a throwback diner, and a large portion of the movie takes place on a country farm.

Which brings me to one of the last things I want to touch on before I wrap it up.

The farm stuff is great. This is the part of the movie that will make or break it for some people. Those hoping for a nonstop balls to the wall action flick may hate the slowed down pace, but I, for one, was captivated by these quieter scenes. Lord knows the trailer never indicated that this would be a movie with contemplative character building taking place far away from the bustling futuristic city.

Emily Blunt is wonderful as the mother of an odd child, and her outlook on things is a wonderful contrast to Joe's way of doing things. The kid is also crazy good. He is a child with an old soul, and at no point did I cringe at any of his dialogue. He is no Jake Lloyd. It's through interactions with these two that Young Joe becomes a way more sympathetic character, and  not in the cliched ways you'd think.

I would love to say more about the farm stuff, but I would hate to spoil what, for me, was the big surprise of the film. Suffice it to say that the farm stuff was a brave choice by Rian Johnson, and Blunt and her son are a huge bright spot in this film..

Overall, I would rank LOOPER as my favorite film of 2012 so far. My ladylove, who is nowhere near the sci fi nerd I am, said after viewing it that she really wanted to see it again and that it was definitely her favorite time travel flick. I just might have to agree.

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