Looper: A Refreshing Take on the Genre
At first glance, writer-director Rian Johnson’s new film about a hit man of the future seemingly destined to kill his older, time-traveling self – or loop – seems a bit outlandish.
However, unlike many of its time-twisting contemporaries, Johnson’s “Looper” deftly defies the taunting questions and paradoxes so common to the genre with skillful directing and powerful performances by a convincing cast.
Both rising actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his veteran co-star Bruce Willis play “Joe Simmons,” a drug-addicted professional killer paid to eliminate enemies of a powerful criminal gang from even farther in their dystopian future.
Thanks to an excellent job by master makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji and what has to be a spirited imitation of the “Die Hard” series star’s inflection and mannerisms by the 31-year-old actor, Gordon-Levitt makes for a surprisingly passable Willis in this visually impressive sci-fi thriller.
“Looper” marks Johnson’s first crack at the genre and the second time he and Gordon-Levitt have worked together – the first being the multi-talented actor’s lead performance in the director’s debut feature, “Brick” (2005).
Since then, Gordon-Levitt has matured considerably as an actor, picking up major roles in Christopher Nolan’s latest critically acclaimed films, “Inception” (2010) and “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012).
Gordon-Levitt again shines in Johnson’s latest film as “Young Joe,” bringing considerable emotion and nuance into his performance as a junior criminal raised largely by a mob boss sent back from the future (Jeff Daniels) that runs the gang’s operations in 2044, when most of the picture is set.
With aspirations to see the world, Gordon-Levitt’s Young Joe apparently feels little remorse for the men he kills, saving up enough blood money to one day travel to France and beyond – memories his future self will later struggle to retain in one of the rare instances that the film explores the bizarre consequences of time travel.
Willis’s own performance as “Old Joe” compares well as the character displays much of the same calculated ruthlessness as Young Joe, albeit tempered by the wisdom of older age, which gives the more mature character a well-earned sense of familiarity and sense of continuity.
While certainly more battle weary and experienced than his younger counterpart, who deep down craves external connection, which eventually comes in the form of a budding romance with Emily Blunt’s equally vulnerable character, Old Joe is not without emotion.
He may be a cold-blooded murderer of men and children alike, but Johnson clearly has a purpose for this anti-hero, giving Gordon-Levitt’s character a close look at what he’s seemingly destined to become – for good or for bad.
At its heart, Johnson’s tale is ultimately one of longing – longing to connect with others, longing to do well in life and, most importantly, longing to confound destiny.
That last aspiration fundamentally drives both characters alike, and its over-riding importance is what gives Willis’s character his depth as a human being. Indeed, the film’s wistfully intimate scenes, sometimes offensively interjected with acts of incredible violence, are what set it apart from less cleverly written, directed and produced films of a similar kind.
Even with “Looper’s” admittedly genre-bending directing – which somehow successfully mates a certain Old Western swagger with a Bladerunner-esque style, among other elements – the film seems vaguely familiar, natural even.
For example, when the film’s setting suddenly shifts from a sprawling metropolis-type setting to that of a small farmstead, everything still seems well fitting – even Young Joe’s anachronistic penchant for 20th century neckties.
In fact, without being campy, Johnson’s winding tale does a wonderful job of pacing itself just fast enough that it avoids getting bogged down in the same old tropes and haggard clichés of its clearly inspired source materials, namely: old gangster and sci-fi films.
All of this results in a nonstop, multi-dimensional movie that keeps its audience anxious and alert for what each new scene might bring them, sufficient to suspend the audience’s disbelief just long enough to lend “Looper” an air of believability and honesty that help dispel its initially preposterous, if exciting, premise.
Sure the context-appropriate nudity and gratuitous violence of this R-rated action film will undoubtedly help bring in additional box office revenue, but the first-rate production values and clever characters are what what will bring people back again and again to see this soon-to-be cult classic.
So if you’re looking for a well-produced and solidly directed sci-fi film meant to last the ages, Rian Johnson’s time-traveling sci-fi thriller “Looper” is certainly worth a shot – or maybe two.