Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Rian Johnson’s Looper is a rare major studio treat in which a gifted young filmmaker is given a decent budget and allowed to see his vision through. The result here is inventive, accessible sci-fi that refuses to dumb down. Bolstered by terrific performances and impressive pacing, the film delivers the goods…and yet doesn’t quite eclipse the wonder of Johnson’s first two indies.
In 2042, time travel is still a few years away from being invented. It will quickly become outlawed and used only by the mob. Due to tracking technology, disposing of bodies in the future is extremely difficult, so the mob hires specially trained assassins called loopers to kill people sent back from 2072. At a specific time and place, a hooded body appears, the looper shoots the target, collects his pay, and gets rid of the evidence. Failure to do so is punishable by death.
Joe (the ever dependable Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such killer. The youngest looper recruited by the mob’s sent-from-the-future liaison Abe (Jeff Daniels), he’s good at what he does and revels in the profession’s sex and drugs lifestyle. The only voluntary way out, however, is “closing the loop,” a harrowing process in which, to eliminate future ties to the business, the mob sends the looper’s older self back to the present to be snuffed out by the looper himself. The payoff is substantial but comes with a guaranteed 30-year expiration date.
Establishing this world through deft Marlowe-esque narration, sharp visuals, and quick cuts that reveal just enough information before moving on, Looper’s opening half is the arguably the most engaging in film this year. It also features one of the more daring moves in recent mainstream cinema, a brilliant manipulation of time in which Johnson asks the audience to trust him for about 10 minutes and then confidently leads them back to the informational promised land. The leap is a clear sign of fresh, independent filmmaking brought to the masses and separates Looper from past time-travel fare.
The experience only grows richer once complications arise with a future boss called the Rainmaker wiping out all loopers. Wary but diligent, Joe awaits his next kill only to hesitate when his older self (Bruce Willis) appears before him, allowing the target to incapacitate him and escape. Eager to right this error, Joe stays on the job while Abe’s men look to take out both iterations.
So begins a wild chase between the two Joes in which Johnson revels in the unknown, systematically rolling out clues while keeping the outcome entirely in the dark. Old Joe, seeking revenge on the Rainmaker for murdering his wife, seeks to knock off the threat as a child before he can grow up to wreak havoc. Unwilling to co-sign, Joe holes up at the farmhouse of Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon, a superb child actor), the latter of whom may be the future evil mastermind.
Only here does the intrigue subside as the domestic doldrums cause the pace to grow languid. Neither Brick nor The Brothers Bloom, Johnson’s earlier works, contain such drawn out mundanity, giving both films an instant edge. The opportunity for Looper to catch its breath is a trial to slog through, but this tedious stretch has its perks, too. The sleepy exchanges are interspersed with enough exhilarating moments of terror to keep its pulse up and overall offers a different side of Joe that lays track for a more effective finale.
Outside of these farmhouse shortcomings, however, Looper gets pretty much everything right. That includes the make-up department nailing the whole “Gordon-Levitt in a prosthetic Willis schnoz” bit, which isn’t nearly as distracting as it first seemed. Competent and confident, all parties shine, providing both straightforward entertainment and room for post-credits conspiracy theories. Johnson’s well-rounded film is one that nearly everyone can enjoy, even if it isn’t quite the step forward that his previous works suggested.
Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
Looper is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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