Friday, September 28, 2012
Looper didn't just clear that bar. Looper cleared that bar, spiked it, set the entire stadium on fire and rode off on a motorcycle as everything exploded in the background. Those reviews weren't kidding — Looper is something special.
Every once in awhile, a new science fiction film arrives that pushes the boundaries of the genre, touching upon themes and ideas from previous great films while finding something new and exciting that hasn't yet been explored. Alien, Blade Runner and The Terminator defined what science fiction would be for years to come in the 1970s and early 1980s. In the early 2000s, The Matrix rewrote the rules for science fiction. And now, more than a decade later, Looper takes its place among these greats.
Director Rian Johnson has done something amazing with Looper. He's simplified time travel. Movies that venture into time travel tend to either get bogged down trying to explain the rules or don't pay attention to the rules at all, thus depriving the film of any real value. Looper sets it straight early on. Time travel exists in the future. It's illegal. Only the criminal syndicates use it to make bodies disappear. Eventually the loopers (the guys in the past disposing of the bodies) will have to close their loop and erase the evidence of their future selves. That's it. There's no Will Smith with a handheld time travel device, hitting repeat to beat up an alien wearing goggles. In Looper, time travel is simple and straightforward.
Johnson also wrote Looper, and he put together a script that future writers will want to study. This isn't a studio blockbuster, bloated with extraneous plot points and characters just to sell toys. Everything in Looper serves a purpose, every character will come into play. The film is like one big Chekov's gun — if a blunderbuss is hung on the wall at the beginning of the movie, you better believe that blunderbuss is going to go off by the end of the movie.
When Johnson wrote Looper, he did so with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in mind as the lead. Gordon-Levitt even offered to play both Young Joe and Old Joe (the Joe who got sent back in time to 2044), but Johnson wanted different actors playing the two roles. After Bruce Willis was cast as Old Joe, the challenge was making Gordon-Levitt look like Willis. The two look nothing like each other, so this wasn't an easy task. Physically, Gordon-Levitt is under enough makeup to pass as a younger Willis. You pick up key parts of the face — lips, ears, nose — that were built to echo the elder actor, enough to sell the illusion.
Gordon-Levitt disappears into the role of Joe, and, by extension, the role of a young Willis. Every so often, the Gordon-Levitt that moviegoers know from The Dark Knight Rises or (500) Days of Summer will peak through, but it's not enough to ruin the trick. Gordon-Levitt and Willis do a stellar job of playing two versions of the same person, to the point where they are different characters with different motivations. Young Joe just wants to close his loop and enjoy the thirty years of freedom that he's been promised. Old Joe wants to change the fate that was waiting for him.
Looper, while a visual powerhouse, isn't afraid to tackle the heavy questions. Old Joe goes back in time to eradicate a threat to the life he's built over thirty years, and he has to make some life-and-death choices to do so. I'm sure you've heard it before, but there's the question asking if you could go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler as child, would you? Well, both Joes have to answer that question in Looper.
As Old Joe, Willis gets to be an action star again, only this time, he's burdened by these greater moral quandaries. Willis still has that badass vibe, and he exerts it without hesitation in Looper. While you probably would've never imagined Gordon-Levitt and Willis playing the same person, it works in Looper. Willis' action star credibility allows him to sell Old Joe as a man who has lived a rough life but is still around to tell his younger self about it.
The latter half of the film revolves around a farm house away from the city. This is where both Joes encounter Sara, a mother played by Emily Blunt. This very well may be Blunt's best performance yet. I read somewhere that the actress formulated her American accent by listening to Chris Cooper a lot. Knowing this definitely explains how she sold her first line in Looper — "Listen up, f---er" — so well. Without saying too much here, Sara is Looper's Sarah Connor, quickly evolving as a woman who will do whatever it takes to protect her son.
When the credits roll and the lights go up after an average movie, you gather up your stuff and head to the aisle. When the credits roll and the lights go up after Looper, you're going to be stuck in your seat, knowing that you just witnessed something special. Not only that, you're probably going to want to get back into line to experience it again.