Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Looper" (2012)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Rated R - Violence, language, nudity, drug use
Running Time: 118 Minutes

"Time travel hasn't been invented it.  But in the future, it will be."

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a special hit man called a Looper.  Whenever a criminal organization in the future needs to get rid of someone, they send him to the past.  Joe is there, and he kills whoever arrives at his location at the specified time, and then disposes of the body.  But there's a certain clause in the contract: whenever your usefulness to the organization has ended, you're sent back in time and killed by your own younger self.  This is called closing the loop.

One night, Joe's friend Seth (Paul Dano) fails to kill his older self, and comes to Joe for help.  But Joe gives Seth up to his boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), who is actually from the future and sent back to run the Loopers.  But Seth has a dire warning from his older self: someone named the Rainmaker has been closing all the loops, and worse, is cutting a swath of death and destruction across the entire world.  His reign of terror is unstoppable.

Soon enough, Joe finds it's his turn: his older self (Bruce Willis) arrives from the future.  But Old Joe manages to get the drop on his younger self and escapes.  Now both Joes are on the run from Abe's men, especially Kid Blue (Noah Segen) and Jesse (Garrett Dillahunt).  Joe realizes that he can get his life back as soon as he kills Old Joe, but Old Joe has come from the future on a mission: He's going to find the Rainmaker as a child and kill him before he can become the horror he'll grow into.  Young Joe knows this, and tracks down the boy (Pierce Gagnon) and his mother (Emily Blunt) first.

Now it's only a matter of time before their inevitable confrontation.  But Abe and his men are closing in, too.  And what exactly is it that will turn this intelligent young boy into the worst terror the world has ever seen?

There were a number of things working in favor of "Looper" when I first started seeing the promos and trailers for it. Firstly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is awesome.  Secondly, Bruce Willis is awesome. Third, I had seen Rian Johnson's previous film, "Brick," which also starred Gordon-Levitt, and was great.  Plus, I always enjoy a good time travel flick.

"Looper," like "Brick" before it, features a clever concept and a solid script bolstered by a great cast.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt has some makeup on his face to make him look more like Bruce Willis, and combined with his fantastic performance, the effect is seamless.  Gordon-Levitt nails it, getting all of Willis' famous facial expressions and mannerisms down.  He doesn't try to affect Willis' voice, but he does take on the proper cadences and manner, so that there are a few times in the film where it's almost striking how much he seems like a younger version of Willis.  The whole thing works beautifully.

As Joe, he's not exactly a man with a heart of gold.  This is perhaps one of the more damaged characters he's played of late. He gives up his own friend for money, set in his goal of moving to France once his loop is closed.  And later, after he's met Sarah and Cid and decides to protect them, it's not because he feels for their plight or that he even cares what will happen in the future, he's only intent on killing Old Joe and getting his life back on track.

Old Joe, on the other hand, despite having the same eyes and mannerisms, is a different person entirely.   As he describes to Joe, he's been saved.  The idea of killing a child is enough to make him sick, but his memories of his wife and what will happen to her because of the Rainmaker in the future drives him to do things he considers horrible.  Intriguingly, he calls his younger version "selfish," when ultimately his own actions are self-serving.  He talks about the terror of the Rainmaker, but what he's after is more time with his wife.

The other characters all have their own carefully constructed motivations as well.  Kid Blue only seeks validation and approval from Abe, but continually screws up, inspiring only Abe's rage. Sarah wants desperately to be a mother to his son, but young Cid believes otherwise and has some serious anger issues. "Looper" goes to great lengths to build its world and its characters.  Director Johnson is interested more in how his characters react to their situations regarding the time travel, rather than a movie about time travel, which serves "Looper" well.

There aren't a lot of fancy special effects in "Looper," the ones that do exist are constrained to things like background cityscapes, futuristic helicopters, computer screens, and the like.  The effects are subtle, but cool.  Even the time travel is really simple: people just suddenly pop into existence, no grand effects, just... appear.  The world is a grimy mixture of old and new technology.  Cars for example are mostly modern-day models, but obviously modified to run on solar or power or something else.  They're banged up and rusted, as many of the people in Joe's world live in poverty.

Johnson creates a number of thrilling, well-made sequences. The violence in Joe's world is brutal and quick.  He also manages to create a sort of quiet suspense.  Notice the scene in which Joe and Cid hide from Jesse, practically in plain sight, in the house. There's no music and almost no sound, just dialogue and a couple of long takes, and it's fantastic. Sometimes, it feels like "Looper" gets off track.  While Kid Blue is interesting, I'm not really sure his story adds much to the proceedings.

Altogether, "Looper" is clever and entertaining.  It's full of great performances, especially from Gordon-Levitt and Blunt.