LOOPER (2012)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Noah Segan & Paul Dano
Directed by Rian Johnson
Written by Rian Johnson
Produced by Ram Bergman & James D. Stern
Cinematography by Steve Yedlin
Music by Nathan Johnson
Edited by Bob Ducsay

That’s one of the shittiest playing cards I’ve ever seen.

   I just need to take this opportunity to express how thankful I am for the talented filmmakers. There are a million movie directors out there, and many of them succeed or fail at executing their craft in varying degrees of talent or ineptitude.  And lately, it seems like there’s been a slew of unoriginal and uninspired movies coming out…don’t get me wrong, 2012 has actually been a pretty good year for movies, despite some of the horrible crap we’ve already seen thus far…and it’s a hell of a lot better than 2011 was, I can tell you that. But what I’m saying here is, sometimes there are filmmakers whom you know you can rely on. There’s nothing better than going to see a movie from a particular filmmaker whom you already respect and admire and having your already high expectations completely skyrocketed to the next level. True filmmakers like this are few and far between.

   Rian Johnson is one of those filmmakers. Although his career has only started fairly recently, Johnson has already set a respectfully high standard of quality for himself at this point in his limited filmography. His debut movie, 2005’s indie film-noir high school murder mystery Brick, received widespread critical acclaim for its unique vision and execution, and pretty clever screenplay. In fact, I’m pretty certain that it’s one of my personal favorite movies, if not my #1. (It varies, but usually it’s up there.) Brick was such a memorable and original film, lifting the character archetypes from a Dashell Hammet pulp novel and dropping them into an average high school setting – a truly unusual idea, but one that Johnson pulled off to a T. Brick succeeds as a motion picture, and honestly, I find it to be one of the strongest and most surprising debut films ever made. Strong performances, strong storytelling, strong characterization and a great visual look…it just knocked it out of the park. His next film The Brothers Bloom in 2009 wasn’t as well received by critics, and was kind of looked over by audiences…to be quite honest, I haven’t even seen this film yet, despite the loving praise I just heaped upon its director. (Although I certainly plan to see it!) But Brick still rules, and once I heard about Rian Johnson’s next project, a sci-fi time travel film by the name of Looper, I knew for sure that we were in for a treat.

Physics be damned.

   And what a treat it is: Looper is an absolute thrill, a truly exciting and thought-provoking time-bender of a chase story that certainly lives up to any high expectation you could throw at it and then some. It has so much energy, a unique visual edge, and such thoroughly creative ideas that you can’t help but smile while watching it unfold before you. I can certainly say it’s one of the most appealing movies that’s come out this year, and most definitely my favorite movie that’s been released in 2012 so far. It’s a movie one can really wrap the mind around, exploring all of its meanings and implications on an intimate and self-aware level. I just love seeing a movie that is aware of its universe, of its logic and rules, and illustrates how those rules can be bent in different ways. This is a movie that illustrates why going to the movies is fun, and as we all know, THOSE are the best kind.

   Looper is a film about a mob hitman named Joe (masterfully pulled off by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in face-altering makeup and doing a pretty good young Bruce Willis impression) who specializes in a special kind of target: those sent from the future to be executed in the past…or rather, the present. The film takes place in OUR future of 2044, where Joe regularly deads victims of the mob sent back in time for these hitmen – known as “loopers” – to dispatch of in the past. You see, in 2074 when time travel is a reality and thus severely outlawed, getting rid of bodies is not as easy due to the technological advancements of the time. Therefore, the crimelords of the future send their “waste” back into the past, where all trace of it can be literally wiped out of existence. Seriously, HOW COOL IS THAT?! Typing that sentence ALONE was a shitload of fun, and the film delivers on all the dramatic possibilities of its premise. Joe lives a pretty lavish lifestyle, getting paid extremely exorbitant amounts of silver that are strapped to the backs of each of his kills. He goes to clubs, he does drugs, he has sex with strippers…he’s pretty much livin’ the contract killer high life.

   So where’s the drama? It turns out that the mob bosses of the future have only one loose end to tie up: the loopers themselves, once they reach their would-be retirement years. In order to do away with any ties they might have to illicit time travel and über low-maintenance body disposal, the mob bosses pull a sort of dirty trick on the loopers: at some point, when it’s decided that an old ex-looper has to go, the mob bosses capture and send back that particular looper’s future self, thereby ridding any trace of affiliation with said looper from the future by ensuring a bizarre form of forced suicide in the past. After this, the looper in question is relieved of duty and allowed to live the rest of his life in complete luxurious freedom until the time comes when the mob decides to send him back to time to his own self-inflicted death. This is called “closing the loop.” It’s a pretty shitty deal, but it’s just part of what comes with the job – a job which provides a near limitless lifestyle with as much capital needed to ensure a stable and comfy existence…you know, aside from all the killing. What’s more, this process of closing the loop has started to become more and more frequent – Joe is seen “celebrating” a friend’s loop closing at a progressively frequent rate. Rumor has it this is because of a new crimelord running things in the future – a man known as The Rainmaker.

Bruce’s kung fu is coming together nicely, but something still has to be done about that scared shitless face he consistently makes.

   See what I’m saying? The creative standard of these ideas alone are simply through the roof! Rian Johnson’s carefully plotted script is definitely the result of some homework – even just time travel movie viewing type of homework. I’m sure Rian Johnson studied time travel of course, but the influence of many time travel movies are definitely laced throughout this film. I’ll talk a little more about that later, but for now, on with plot!

   One night a looper friend of Joe’s named Seth (played with at zany, nerdy punching bag, Paul Dano-esque gusto by Paul Dano) arrives at his apartment in a worried frenzy. It seems that Seth’s had come to close his loop earlier in the day, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it and let his older self escape. I think it should go without saying that this is BAD – Lord knows what kind of universe-bending shitstorms the timeline would get into if you let a person who isn’t supposed to be there running around affecting things. Having made the biggest mistake a looper can make, and with his life on the line (in two senses), Seth seeks shelter in Joe’s apartment [oh man……….I can’t believe that actually just came to be due to circumstance]. Joe hides his buddy just as the syndicate thugs arrive there, and he gets taken into the office of his boss, Abe. Jeff Daniels fills this role, and he plays it with such a laid-back yet authoritative and assured styling that you can’t help but like the guy, even though he’s trying to kill our protagonist’s best friend. Abe is from the future himself, and acts as the mob’s representative in the past. He manages to coax Joe into giving up Seth’s location, and we are shown the grim consequences for looper who gets captured when he lets his own future self escape. There’s no way I’m gonna spoil what it is, but I will just say that is has to be seen to be believed.

Joe sees his favorite spot on the ceiling to point at and, sure enough, acts accordingly.

   Guilt-ridden yet steadfast, Joe goes back to work. One day he’s waiting for a target to arrive so he can blast it, when suddenly, POOF – a man appears, but he’s not wearing the trademark bag over the head. Joe can see who it is perfectly – it’s HIM, 30 years older. His loop has come back! And his loop is played by none other than Bruce Willis, action star extraordinaire, showing everyone that there is a reason he is revered as the badass he truly is. No sooner than 10 seconds after appearing onscreen do we see him pulling badass moves, escaping from his death as his younger self tries to kill him, and tearing out into town to achieve some unknown end. Now Young Joe is marked for apprehension at the hands of his employers and he is set out on the run in the attempt to avoid his would-be captors and hunt down his future self and kill him.

   I’m going to end my plot summary here at the juicy part, because there is NO WAY I’m going to spoil what happens next. I feel I’ve already said too much, quite frankly, but this set up is only part of the entire story. Looper is able to weave a compelling and entertaining tale using all the little threads at its disposal, and it is truly a memorable experience. It’s paced incredibly well, giving us spurts of genuinely thrilling action as well as softer moments for balance, plus throwing in the occasional mix of humor to make the twisty sci-fi elements feel much more human. I want to give a hat’s off to the entire cast of this movie, since everybody pretty much kills it in their performances. Rian Johnson definitely knew what he was doing when he cast his previous Brick star as the lead in this movie. Joe Gord-Lev has quickly become one of the best actors working today, and is currently experiencing a stratospheric rise in his star power. He gives a cold-hearted yet charismatic sheen to Joe, getting us to like him even though he’s kind of a bastard who kills people for money. Then there’s Bruce Willis, looking far more badass here than he does in that friggin’ Expendables 2 movie by playing a time-hopping future version of our protagonist who’s intent to change some future shit for the better…no matter what the cost. Watching these two actors interact with each other – as different versions of the same character – is an absolute blast, and they nail it in terms of performance. I also want to mention Jeff Daniels as Abe, Joe’s boss from the future: Daniels totally grounds and humanizes this character, making him one of the most interesting antagonistic characters I’ve seen in a while. He’s just a guy doin’ his job, pretty much – the way Daniels fills the role with this lazy sternness on a guy from the future packs a few layers into every scene he’s in.   I don’t want to give away too much, but there are a couple other things worth mentioning: Emily Blunt makes a pretty strong appearance as a farm-owning mother to a child in danger, and her plotline kicks in during the 2nd half of the movie. Her and her child play a very important role in the film that I won’t delve into, but they both deliver killer performances that drive home the themes of the movie solidly.

T’aint wise to mess with a momma witta shottie.

   There are a lot of cool sequences in Looper. It’s the kind of movie that you can get wrapped up in and excited about, the kind of movie that gets you talking about it as you leave the theater and thinking about it on the drive home. Things flow into each other naturally, and circumstances play out in a matter we can easily follow – I hate to bring this up again (kind of), but in comparison to a movie like The Dark Knight Rises, which had a million things going on that didn’t really tie together into a cohesive story, Looper shows what it is to tell a deft yet complex story in a manner that doesn’t leave the audience struggling to keep up. It’s high praise, because there’s a lot of information being doled out for us to be aware of. Another thing worth mentioning is that the movie is surprisingly brutal too – fans of gory action will be pleased with Looper. Not to say that it’s a blood ‘n’ guts fest – cause it’s not – but there are moments where you can see how well the squib guy on the movie got paid. It serves to add to the intensity of the already brutal chase scenes the movie features, some of which are unlike anything you’ve ever seen in other movies.

   So here’s the thing: we’ve all seen a jillion time travel movies before. Let’s face it, it’s been DONE.  But Looper is a smart enough movie – and Johnson is a smart enough filmmaker – to understand, and even reference this fact in the movie. The movie kind of steers clear of any real logical debate on the logistics of the time and memory consistencies being altered, and for good reason. There’s a great scene in the first half of the flick when Young Joe first meets face-to-face with Old Joe in a diner to discuss the state of their…uh, “lives”, and why all this is happening. Young Joe starts asking logic-testing time travel questions and an annoyed Old Joe shouts in frustration, “I don’t want to talk about time travel SHIT!” It’s a hilariously self-referential yet totally believable exclamation delivered perfectly by Willis, and it drives a solid point home. The point is, Looper is smart enough to know that it’s the time travel itself, not the logistical details of the time travel, that make the idea fun. The focus is set very heavily on story, and character, with the complicated scientific logic/laws of physics aspect of it largely remaining secondary. There have been enough time travel movie elements that have seeped into the public consciousness so much by now that we as an audience can pretty much put the logical pieces together ourselves – Looper is a classy enough movie to take this into consideration, rather than feeling the need to have everything explained to you all the damn time. Plus, there are references to past time travel classics sprinkled throughout the film – the most obvious one to me being Old Joe’s knack of looking at a picture of his murdered wife to keep his mind focused on his goal, similar to how Marty McFly had a picture of his siblings in Back to the Future which he checked frequently to remind us all what the stakes were. It’s a stylistic choice of Johnson’s to have a time travel movie that doesn’t primarily focus on the time travel itself – it’s a story element to the max, but the movie is about these people in this particular situation, and that is why the movie works.

You can tell that Heat is his….or, uh, is it “their”?….favorite movie.

   The blood of every great time travel movie is oozing throughout Looper. It’s a movie that neatly trims the best attributes of these time travel classics from their source and blends them together into something that feels fresh and genuinely exciting. It’s one of the best post-Matrix action movies I’ve ever seen, one that infuses similarly heady notions into a smartly paced, well-thought out action thriller.  It brings into question the idea of self, the way our choices and decisions affect our own timelines, and the repercussions of drastic actions on the way things turn out. Basically, it’s a smart movie that knows how to get around its own cleverness and provide something truly entertaining. I really love movies like that, and Rian Johnson is the kind of filmmaker who delivers movies like that. I highly recommend Looper to anyone interested in checking out what a truly compelling and expressive movie looks like. After a summer chock full of mindless and pandering drek (Battleship, anyone?) it’s certainly a breath of fresh air to see a movie that both takes its subject matter seriously and respects its audience enough to tell an engaging story while delivering the emotional goods. And I really can’t say enough good things about it because of that. All that’s really left for me to say is….GO SEE IT!