by Jason Pyles
Movie Podcast Weekly.com
Premise: In the year 2044, hitmen called “loopers” are hired to execute any unwanted individuals who cross the criminal organizations of 30 years into the future. Time travel exists circa 2074, so victims are sent back in time to present-day 2044, to be disposed of by loopers.
Review: I have known about (and have been mildly anticipating) “Looper” since writer-director Rian Johnson described it during a guest appearance on The /Filmcast a couple of years ago. “Looper” is Johnson’s third feature film — and though I’m in the minority of people who didn’t love “Brick” (2005) or “The Brothers Bloom” (2008), I appreciated the craft evident in those movies. I suspected this talented filmmaker would one day make a film that dazzled me, and I’m happy to report that the day has come.
I remember seeing the original “Total Recall” (1990) and “Twelve Monkeys” (1995) in theaters. There was something exhilarating to me about the bizarre, futuristic worlds those movies depicted. Merely witnessing their release made me feel like I was experiencing something significant in the history of cinema. And though I didn’t see it in theaters originally, I can comfortably mention “Blade Runner” in the same breath. “Looper” now stands among those films in my mind for the same reasons. I believe we are witnesses to another significant achievement in the cinema.
First and foremost, “Looper” is a science fiction, action-thriller with a narrative built upon the time travel convention, except in this case, time travel is employed with great effect. At times during “Looper,” I am reminded of playful and clever maneuvers by beings of the past who converse with beings of the future, such as we see in “Frequency” (2000), when a wallet needs to be sent to a future where fingerprint analysis is possible. Johnson gives us similar delights in “Looper.”
As both writer and director, Rian Johnson provides a faithful and inseparable connection between the vision of his story on the page, and the imagery that he ends up depicting onscreen. His artist’s attention to detail provides some notable visual flourishes: For example, there’s a brief little scene in “The Brothers Bloom” where Adrien Brody’s character “Bloom” sits on a roof, moping. From the camera’s perspective (our perspective), there is some elaborate graffiti on the wall behind him that makes it appear as though a huge pistol is aimed at the dejected character’s head. Just then, his brother punches open the metal door, and it sounds like a gun shot — and for a split second, we think that large, painted gun went off and blew Bloom’s brains out. Naturally, Johnson probably knew of the graffiti in that location prior to including it in his script; I heard him during a screenwriter’s interview once, and he said he looks and listens to the world around him and keeps notes on tidbits that could enhance his future films.
“Looper” follows suit with its predecessors and gives us imaginative “world-builders” to look at, such as a pickup truck that’s rigged with its exhaust looping back into the fuel tank again. You see, here we have Johnson’s looping theme visually illustrated, and at the same time, subtly informing us that fuel in 2044 doesn’t seem to be as much of a concern.
In addition to literal depictions of smaller themes, Johnson wrote a fascinating spin on the protagonist wrestling with himself and his inner struggles, traversing the curve and change of his story arc, by showing us the younger version of the protagonist Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) battling with the older version of Joe (played by Bruce Willis). Many films struggle to portray internal conflict outwardly, but in this film, Johnson has written a way to show us this conflict in tangible terms.
It’s also notable that in time travel movies, when a character encounters his past self, he is typically generous with his younger self, due to the selfish ways it could benefit him in the future, of course. But in “Looper,” it’s intriguing to see someone so at odds with himself.
“Looper” whets its viewers’ appetite, building anticipation and suspense to see certain things that we know will come around later. In this regard, the movie shows me everything I wanted to see, except for the future incarnation of a character called “The Rainmaker.” I understand why this is the case, however.
It should be noted — and not necessarily in a critical sense — that “Looper” owes something to other stories that came before it. One can watch “Looper” and see unmistakable influences from “The Terminator” (Bruce Willis’s list of three targets); “X2” — specifically Siryn (aka Banshee) and her sonic scream; “Return of the Jedi” and its “speeder bikes”; the Incredible Hulk (“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”); a hint of “Children of the Corn” and Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of a friend for some silver.
And if you really want to get nuts on the pop culture references, at one point a character refers to “Home Office,” which was something that Roger Ebert maligned “Battlefield Earth” (2000) for during his review. But after listening to enough interviews with the jokey and mischievous Rian Johnson, he may have included such a reference on purpose.
As for its cast, “Looper” is stacked. I particularly enjoy Jeff Daniels’s performance. Johnson returns to a few of the same actors for each of his films, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt. There’s Scorsese and De Niro, Burton and Depp, Scott and Washington, and now there’s Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Noah Segan was also carried over to “Looper” from “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom,” but I dearly missed seeing Nora Zehetner this time around.
Though the ending of the film is fine, I must admit that my curiosity is already piqued at the thought of a sequel to “Looper.” However, another installment would surely undercut what Johnson has done in this movie, making it more or less in vain. Plus, Johnson seems too classy and ambitious to start cranking out mindless sequels. Let’s hope “Looper” is a stand-alone film. Even so, if he makes a Part 2, I’ll definitely see it.
Summary: Having only seen it once thus far, I can say that watching “Looper” for the first time is a great experience. (I suspect that repeat viewings will be rewarded, too, considering Johnson’s attention to detail.) But “Looper” is the rare sort of intelligent and entertaining experience that makes it well worth seeing in the theater and worthy of purchase when it’s released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Verdict: 8 out of 10 ( Theater / Buy It! )
Listen to our podcast episode dedicated to covering this film: Ep. 001 – Looper (2012)
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt
Genre: Sci-Fi / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content)
Runtime: 118 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: September 28, 2012