Fri 28 Sep 2012
The thought of writing an entire review out of order in order to play with the theme of writer/director Rian Johnson’s new time travel film was enticing. I enjoy mixing things up once in a while (like allowing readers to “jump” around the “Jumper” review). However, that kind of tomfoolery is best left to movies not interesting enough to warrant serious discussion. “Looper” manages to present a remarkably detailed and smart story that remains clear and understandable despite characters zipping back and forth in time.
In the interest of allowing people to enter the theater spoiler-free, all that I’ll lay down plot wise is that the film is about a man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who carries out hits for an organized crime syndicate that transports their victims backwards in time to make disposing of the evidence easier, earning the hit-men the revised title of “looper”. When it comes time to kill his older self (Bruce Willis) to “close the loop” (since time travel itself is illegal), things go awry and the plot expands from there.
The performances are all well measured, highlighted of course by Gordon-Levitt. He doesn’t so much impersonate Willis but adopts subtle mannerisms and vocal cadence, which are augmented by make-up and prosthetics to create a entirely believable connection between the two. What differences are inherent in being 30 years his junior, via the ambition and brashness of youth, only accentuate his interactions with fellow loopers, a single mother (Emily Blunt), her son (Pierce Gagnon), and his boss (Jeff Daniels).
And while the other adults all do a nice job, the surprise standout is the young child actor, Gagnon. Unfortunately I can’t say anything really without being a jerk but his performance won’t be soon forgotten. It’s clear the end result was aided by good editing and directing but once you see the film, you’ll see why this little kid stands up to the seasoned collection of actors around him.
Back on the technical side of things, Johnson has once again taken a genre and given it a fresh update. For those who haven’t seen his debut film, “Brick“, you have your homework assignment; he adapted the film noir genre for a high school setting brilliantly and the sheer intelligence in the script and direction was evident immediately. His sophomore effort “The Brothers Bloom” got a great review from another writer on this site but is far less universally acclaimed (I like it but don’t love it) so it’s okay by me if you don’t rush to see it.
With “Looper” he is treading on some familiar ground (“Twelve Monkeys” and “The Terminator” most obviously) but he tweaks and bends it well enough that everything feels fresh and vibrant. Time travel films have a way of making things so convoluted as to make the head spin but Johnson is able to make everything as coherent as possible and uses the framework of the scientific concept to effect an utterly engaging story. Even more impressive is that he follows through on the threads loosely woven at the beginning as they tighten up towards the end, with both major and minor characters. And like “Children of Men“, you shouldn’t discount any detail no matter how small.
The other key technical element that elevates the film to such high stature is the editing by Bob Ducsay. Sure, there’s the flashy side of it because you have to cut together all the time jumps but each scene is smartly packaged; the angles and options to move between close-ups and wide shots are well chosen. And then there’s the basic fact that Johnson and Ducsay have assembled a movie about time travel that plays like a linear film, which is astounding on its own, and they don’t fall into the trap of relying on the factor of creating some repeating time loop just because it’s cool.
So before I start talking about something that will end up ruining the experience for anyone reading this, just know that if you can handle bursts of violence (which extends to more than one child in the film), enjoy a smart screenplay accompanied by good acting, editing, direction and production design, “Looper” is the film 2012 has been waiting for. This breaks a very long streak for me and earns the first 5 out of 5 I’ve given out since 2010 (“Drive” was soooo close and I’ve gotten a lot pickier in the last few years). It’ll be in my Top 10 once this year is all said and done without question, and is more evidence that there are still young directors out there poised to keep the tradition of filmmaking as an art form rather than a cash grab alive and kicking.