(Pacific Coast News, TriStar Pictures)
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
A visionary work, Looper is a cross-genre thriller with frantic performances and a perfect ending. It's the best sci-fi film of the last decade.
Mmmm time travel, heroin for the film junkie. Combined with the genius of Rian Johnson
and the intensity of Joseph Gordon-Levitt
is primed to blow the doors off cinemas across the country. Borrowing from a litany of genres, Johnson has crafted the rarest of things: a cerebral action thriller. Not since Inception
has a sci-fi film been so captivating, so full of astounding moments and sequences. Looper
is the kind of film you never want to end, and when it does, you want to see it again.
Johnson has already given us the best neo-noir of the postmodern era and now he's created one of the best sci-fi films also. The writer/director combines elements of westerns, noir, horror, and suspense thrillers to weave a film through fantastic complexities to a smart, cohesive resolution that will satisfy even the most obtuse filmgoer. Looper
is for everyone, smart enough for the junkies and savvy enough for teenagers.
Beginning with a shot of a watch (a staple
of Johnson's films and a symbol of their meticulous construction), Looper
introduces Joe (Levitt), one of a team of hitmen, called "loopers," who kill marks sent back in time from the year 2074. Looper
's present day is Kansas 2044 where Joe spends his time blowing people away with his blunderbuss, stacking the silver bricks he receives as payment, and self-dosing an unidentified drug with an eyedropper while clubbing with other loopers. The scenes of revelry that dip into acid sci-fi are visionary, using jump-cuts and rotating cameras, keeping the audience firmly in awe and giving the film an engaging edge.
Joe studies French so when he saves enough, he can retire to Europe, but his plans are put on hold when the future mob boss, The Rainmaker, starts "closing loops" by sending his hitmen back in time to be killed by their younger selves. This obviously, causes problems, and when a fellow looper (Paul Dano
) can't kill himself, Joe starts wondering what he'll do when he's in that spot. He finds out fast as he meets his future (Bruce Willis
) in a sugar cane field and is outsmarted. With both Joes on the run from the mob, Looper
transitions into a frantic chase film following both men's paths until they intersect in a mind-blowing and perfect final scene.Looper
is a sci-fi western and the best one ever made (not that big a deal considering Back to the Future III
and Wild Wild West
). Coursing through the film is some fantastic stuff, namely the weapons, like Joe's blunderbuss. Other hitmen are called "gat men" and carry revolvers, their leader, Kid Blue (Noah Segan
, h/t to Hopper
?) speaks with a twang and plays the Shakesperean fool, a recurring western character. There are other hitmen who wear flat brimmed hats like Stevie Ray Vaughn, bordellos and burlesque shows, and the film's greatest nod to the genre: a sugar cane farm owned by a lone woman who protects it, and her son, with a Remington 870 shotgun.Emily Blunt
plays the woman, Sara, who eventually befriends and protects younger Joe during the film's latter half. She is introduced hammering away at a stump with an axe, therapy it seems, as she shrugs off Joe's suggestion to remove it with a tractor. She's a "TK" (telekinetic), along with 15% of the population, a seemingly innocuous power used by many as a dating ploy, but it becomes essential to the plot.
Telekinesis and time travel play into the metaphysical nature of the film, a theme Johnson seems most interested in while working out his story. The parallels to other classic genre films like The Terminator
are there on the surface, but its rare for a science fiction film to delve so exponentially into philosophy. Uniquely, facing off with one's future self, something absurdly impossible yet rational, since we are all creating ourselves and our futures every day.
Aside from its existentialism, Johnson channels Lynchian themes (as he did in Brick
) via Looper's criminal underworld led by a boss from the future (Jeff Daniels
) and his bretheren. Aspects of classic gangster films also emerge, notably a scene involving a ball-peen hammer, a nod to Casino
, and last year's Drive
. The idea of two actors playing the same person is also Lynchian, but Johnson makes all these ideas his own, meshing them flawlessly within his intricate narrative.
Levitt is his typical riveting self. If there's an actor with more range, more sheer instinct than the 31-year-old I haven't seen one. Likewise, Willis slips comfortably into his role, recalling the confused intensity he showed in 12 Monkeys
. But Blunt stands out above all. Sara is a new type for her, and the British actress nails her stubborn resolve and worrisome defensiveness.
There's more: Looper
contains one fantastic Omen
-esque performance from child actor Pierce Gagnon
who plays Sara's son Cid. Cid represents the horror genre, staring blankly at his mother at times and exploding in furious anger during one climactic sequence. His casting is perfect, and the young man shows a fierce intelligence that gets to the very heart of what makes children so terrifying.
While the themes add to the visceral punch of the film, Looper
includes some deft logic within its future world. Johnson and his team, led by cinematographer Steve Yedlin and production designer Ed Verreaux, create an authentic feel around their dystopia. It's industrial but also pastoral, futuristic, but not antiseptic, and the logic of the time travel is special. In one scene, young Joe carves a message in his arm, the idea being the scar will show up on old Joe. A fantastic touch that's a microcosm of the film's originality.
The film's greatest achievment is a sequence that travels forward in time, showing all that will transpire in the next thirty years. The years tick off as Joe ages, transitioning from Levitt to Willis until they are face to face in the cane field, young Joe with blunderbuss in hand. The secret to non-linear transitions is in familiarity. Johnson shows us a scene, and then amplifies it by developing its background and returning to it. There's nothing missing in the film, Johnson closes all the loops.
See more photos of Joseph Gordon-Levitt here: