Saturday, September 29, 2012
Johnson's an interesting cinematic specimen onto himself. His first film film was the highly stylized indie Brick (2006), a never before seen melding of John Hughes and classically pulp film noir. It was one of the features that put star Joseph Gordon Levitt on the movie landscape, and Looper furthers that journey for both star and filmmaker. That Johnson's second feature-- the zany caper The Brothers Bloom (2008) was so markedly different, except for the quirk, made him a more interesting auteur. In Looper, Johnson is working on his biggest scale and shows a remarkable lightness, ease and confidence, even more impressive considering the film is bigger, grander, more adventurous, and more ambitious than his previous films. Set in two simultaneous futures, and centered around one main character, one a younger, aggressive outsider assassin Joe (Gordon Levitt); the other the older, more weathered soul with a greater consciousness (played by Bruce Willis), Looper is the sort of science fiction epic that in story detail and description would sound confusing and convoluted, enough to engulf even the most alert movie-goer still stoked by Inception. The remarkable trick of Looper and Johnson's delicate balancing act is that he appears even less interested in the schematics, and keeps everything nicely tight and earthbound.
Joe is a looper, a contract player for an underworld of mob men who seek to rid the planet of future goons. Thirty years in the future from younger Joe's world, a mysterious group sends people back in time for their execution, riding them of future havoc. Time travel is illegal and only performed by such underground groups. The world of the looper is a fairly sad one; even as Joe goes from job to job, while carousing nightly with drugs and prostitutes in between. One of the rules of the looper trade is that they must be killed off at some point; time travel is outlawed and these assassins have blood on their hands. The real ride begins as Young Joe meets Older Joe, and the race and clash begins. There's a bit more to plot, but most of the thrills of Looper are in the turns and switch of fates, including Young Joe's escape to a farm land home, ruled by a steely, and rifle-touting mother (Emily Blunt), who's ten-year-old boy may or may not hold a key to a grisly future. Looper evolves, seemingly paying homage to science fiction past, but rather than pay lip service to it's predecessors, Johnson swaggers, holds a beat, and moves on, claiming his film as something of its own. Jeff Daniels steps in for able comic support as mob guy, and provides the biggest, most ironic bit of amusement in the film, just by the reference of the country, "China." It's akin to The Graduate's famous "Plastics" punchline.
There's a nicely painted backdrop to a future, not uncommon to the one presented in Children of Men or Blade Runner, that's vivid without ever being overbearing or taking focus away from the characters. There's hints of virus that hit the world some earlier, with scary effects, but what's chilling mostly is the dissolute, seeming ordinariness of Johnson's future-- it's haunting and slightly exhilarating. Yet that's also part of the fun; the cinematic ride of action genre yarn built around subtle artistic flourishes that ground Looper from straying too far from course in any direction. The best exchange in the entire film involves Gordon Levitt and Willis at a dinner, each with opposing mind view on the table. Gordon Levitt knows the rules and will nothing to win, even if killing his future self is a part of it; Willis demonstrates a tough-minded sensibility while trying to get through to his less focused younger self of the bliss of happiness and need to fight for it. Yet Johnson ably supports both his Joes, and never loses a connection to either. Gordon Levitt and Willis do fine work, both greatly lifted from superior material.
And in the end, will-- Looper is just kind of blast. Even when slight nods towards the bombast derail the peculiar charm, the film never quells. It breathes with the excitement of something new, while both looking back and forward at once. A-