By Dirk Sonniksen | September 28, 2012
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon
When I first saw the trailer for Looper, I was intrigued. It had all the elements that get my motor running — time travel, alternate realities, and Emily Blunt. I was excited, but then my excitement was stunted by the realization that so many movies that straddle this genre suck miserably, and that Looper would likely suck as well. But then I said to myself, “Wait! Dirk! Summer is over! The studios have released all the crappy movies this year, and Looper lies in the sweet spot — the September/October Habitable Zone.” So I dove in.
We have Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hitman of sorts, known in these times as a Looper. The future transports folks back to Joe (and other Loopers), and he blows a giant hole in them. The future then pays Joe, and he waits for the next assignment. This seems like a fairly easy job, that is until the future starts giving these Loopers their future selves to dispose of. This is called closing the loop. Closing the loop is not a big deal for some Loopers, but for others, namely Joe, it’s just weird. What happens when a Looper refuses to close the loop? You’ll have to go see Looper!
I’m happy to report that Looper doesn’t suck, in fact, it’s probably one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen. Looper successfully combines sci-fi and old school action with a script that is super-smart, and cinematography that has a very “on-location” feel. What stalls so many sci-fi films is the director’s tendency to take one completely out of their element. It’s neat for a while, but as the film progresses, the world in which the director has made begins to just feel fake. It’s too much. Looper, thankfully, does not suffer from this malady. One always feels grounded to this place, because there is always something tangible to bring you back home (a house, a dance club, a diner, a field). Speaking of tangible, I loved that Looper used real old school guns, not some futuristic nonsense that shoots laser beams. The guns are large, they are loud, and they put large holes in people.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an astounding job playing Joe, our main Looper. He’s got that just-right persona, with enough compassion to heal, and enough hate and greed…to blow holes in people. While I’m always a bit apprehensive when it comes to Bruce Willis, he was the perfect choice for Old Joe (that’s his credited name people). It’s as if director Rian Johnson knew he needed someone to bring the audience back into that old action movie state-of-mind — Willis was his ace-in-the-hole (What? You need someone to fire a machine gun? Call Willis). Emily Blunt is also stellar as a lady with an attitude, and one confused kid. She also looks amazing chopping wood. And speaking of kids! Kudos to Pierce Gagnon as Cid, the kid who you’ll want to handle with…kid gloves (think Damien from The Omen or Jack Jack from The Incredibles). This little guy’s acting performance was the best of the film, and his comedic timing is spot on (love the scene on the stairs).
So many genre films are very light on script and heavy on action and effects. Half-way in you realize that you just don’t care about the characters, and want them to die horrible film deaths so as to make your experience, at least somewhat memorable. Director Rian Johnson manages to kill off plenty of people in Looper, but he finds a way to balance the carnage with a really smart script, some down-to-earth, thought-out cinematography, superb editing, and a cast up for the task. Why can’t more directors accomplish this? I’m not entirely sure, but it might have something to do with the afore-mentioned tangibles. Directors like Hitchcock, and yes, M. Night Shyamalan were quite successful in taking the everyday and turning it on its head. The ability to insert the strange into the normal is a gift. Does Rian Johnson have the gift? Only time will tell, and while Looper has not completely converted me to Rianism — I’m definitely intrigued.