Sunday, September 30, 2012

Looper


LOOPER: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt (118 min.)

If anything, Rian Johnson's Looper is proof that there are still wonderful ideas and creative minds in Hollywood.  If the summer season has you convinced nothing new happens in Tinseltown anymore, see Looper, a crafty, clever, sleek and smart science-fiction thriller with great symmetry and writing which manages to outsmart the paradoxical nature of time travel movies.  It is maybe the most intelligent sci-fi film since the original Matrix.  So many questions arise throughout the film, and some are answered while others are wisely avoided to prevent a traffic jam of questions and conundrums.  It takes unexpected turns and tells a story I was not expecting, and what a relief that very notion is.

The film takes place in 2044 and, in a way, 2074, where time travel has been invented but immediately outlawed.  In 2074 illegal gang factions use time travel to erase their enemies by sending them back to 2044 where they are shot dead in a Kansas field by Loopers, hired assassins who sit waiting on their target to appear, bound and hooded.  Once the targets are killed the loopers collect their silver pieces from the body and dispose of the evidence, thus, in theory, erasing the person from existence.  There is a catch, however, as these Loopers will eventually kill the future versions of themselves.  This is known as "closing the loop," and once it happens loopers are allowed to retire and live the next thirty years of their life free and clear.  It is a strange existence, liberating and constraining at the same time.  What a paradox.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a Looper in 2044 who doubles as our narrator.  Joe, like all of the Loopers, is an aimless drug addict (as is the case with many sci-fi films, there is a new drug on the market) who was picked up off the streets and turned into this unusual contract killer.  Who else would take a job where they were assured of death thirty years in the future?  Of course, when Joe's future self appears (played by Bruce Willis), his head is uncovered, things go awry, and Old Joe escapes.  This sends Young Joe on a mission to find his future self and kill him so he can be set free.  For thirty years, that is.  Soon after Old Joe escapes he meets Young Joe in a diner.  The meeting is of course bizarre and a little mind blowing, but very immediate regarding the plot.  You know how you always imagine things you would tell your younger self if you had the chance?  Joe has that chance here, and he tries his best to drop some hints to his younger self without, well, I guess destroying all of time.

The plot thickens, and it carries Young Joe to a farm where Sara (Emily Blunt) lives with her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who has an interesting tie to the future.  This is where Looper uses a small plot point from earlier and turns it into a vital bit of the narrative structure.  I would say supernatural elements are at play, but the way this certain element is introduced it keeps things grounded in some sort of futuristic reality.  I can see my mind getting twisted writing this.

So much detail and time has to be spent on screenplays like Looper, because one slight misstep and the plot unravels and director Rian Johnson would lose his audience.  There is not any room for plotholes here.  Sure, there are some questions left unanswered and logical blunders here and there, but they are minute when placed inside the larger frame.  And the climax does a good job of sealing the fate of the film without allowing room for mistakes.  It is also a satisfying end to the story.  Johnson does a good job with his future world, peppering the outside of the frames with small gadgets and upgrades and technologies to indicate this is the future.  But none of it is distracting. 

I was worried about the makeup on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose face is manipulated to resemble a young Bruce Willis.  It stays distracting.  With a long, droopy, puffy face, Levitt is basically unrecognizable as Young Joe.  I don't now if it was necessary to take such painstaking effort to make Levitt look like Willis.  Maybe a nip her and a tuck there, some contacts and a hairline alteration and, voila!  This extensive transformation is a major distraction.  But I suppose if makeup is the only issue with a sci-fi mind bender like Looper, you've done pretty well as a director.

A-