Originally, I wasn’t going to write a review for Looper.
Director Rian Johnson’s third feature (he’s made Brick and The Brothers Bloom earlier) came out worldwide a fortnight ago and has already been the subject of intense reviews, conversations, praise and dissections online. Adding to the ocean felt redundant. However, as the film drew to a close, I realized that I had relished the experience so much I wanted to go home and write about it. And, so, here we are.
Looper is set in 2044, a dystopian world wherein the United States has suffered economic collapse, society has decayed and organized crime has grown. In 2074, thirty years further into the future, time travel is invented but is immediately outlawed. It’s only used by mob bosses who wish to dispose of the bodies of their victims’ bodies since doing so in the future is an impossible task. They send the body back to 2044, wherein a hired gun (called a “Looper”) awaits. Joe is one such looper, living the good life until one day he’s sent his own future self to kill. He hesitates and his future self runs away. All hell breaks loose.
You may recognize many tropes that turn up in Looper. A dystopian future setting with a disintegrating society. Time travel. The paradox of meeting one’s own self in the past/future. These are staples of the science-fiction genre, but what makes Looper feel fresh and exciting is how they are incorporated into the story being told. Various bits – which may even seem disjoint at first – ultimately coalesce into a beautiful whole. Joe is a smart dresser and the pointlessness of that is called into attention in the beginning. However, later, it turns out his smart dressing had its own little benefit. Watching the story unfold, figuring out my bearings, experiencing the payoffs when they finally arrive was easily the best part of the my viewing experience. Johnson’s screenplay is an ingenious and labyrinthine puzzle, and every piece fits.
If there’s one complaint I have about the film it’s about the opening, much of which is spent explaining the universe, the mythology and the context to the characters. While this is a requisite in a plot like this, it’s done in a manner here that’s, frankly, shoddy and renders proceedings an expository nature.
Much of the pre-release talk about the film was devoted to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance, and the physical transformation he had undergone to play a younger version of Bruce Willis. Having seen the finished film, it’s undeniable that Joseph did a lot of homework (and did it well). He’s imbibed Willis’ mannerisms while creating a distinct and complete character. Sadly, at times it feels like a performance. It comes across like Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing some other personality, which is disconcerting. The makeup work by Kazuhiro Tsuji is astounding, but the drastic nature of it is jarring and takes some time to get used to. However, once I got past this issue I realized just how good Gordon-Levitt’s work is. It’s because of the effort he puts in that the film’s climax possesses the kick it does. While he’s carried over his usual screen presence and charm, this isn’t the Joseph we have seen in (500) Days of Summer or even Inception.
Bruce Willis plays the older version of Joe and it’s refreshing to see him portray a meaty character. Older Joe comes back to 2044 with an agenda, and it’s a particularly thorny one. The moral dilemma it creates is prickly and powerful. It’s testament to Willis’ acting that not once does it feel like his character isn’t justified in doing what he’s doing. Jeff Daniels plays Abe, the mob boss in 2044 and he’s a smooth, chilly villain. He makes a better Will McAvoy here than in The Newsroom, where he’s actually supposed to play him. Emily Blunt plays Sara, a woman at whose farm Joe takes refuge and she’s good. Her accent can be a bit off-putting, but it’s not a deal-breaker. She is extremely convincing and likable as a mother who won’t let any harm befall her son.
Talking about the son, it’s Pierce Gagnon who’s the standout of the cast. In the few scenes he has, he’s simply magnetic. He has a sense of earnestness and innocence to him without which the film would be absolutely weightless. Plus, he has excellent comic timing. This is utilized to brilliant effect in two scenes that elicited loud laughter at my screening. Johnson has directed one of the best child performances in recent times.
Visually, there’s a rugged quality to Looper that not only gives it a nice look but also a unique identity. Johnson uses lens flares on multiple occasions but unlike, say, JJ Abrams’ use of them, they aren’t in-your-face or distracting. They lend the scenes set inside Sara’s farm an early-Spielberg vibe that’s actually pretty. The special effects are decent and, barring a few occasions (there’s a sequence involving a motorbike going through fields that’s extremely fake and dragged me out of the film), belie the humble $40 million budget of the film.
While walking out of Looper, I had a big grin on my face. The neatness of the plot blew my mind and the drama created by it engaged my emotions. It’s been less than a day since I saw it but I’m already making plans to go for it again. You should check it out.
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Photo Credit: Columbia TriStar