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Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Looper" Is the Genre-Bending Film 2012 Has Been Waiting For [REVIEW]

It's clear that writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) took a long look at the current state of the action movie, and decided to flip it on its head when he delved into the tricky time traveling film, Looper.

Employing a medley of old school tactics--slow-motion grabs, a creepy kid, and of course the all important nod to some of the more memorable classics, time travel--Johnson re-teams with his Brick star Joseph Gordon-Levitt for a thrilling look at the deviating life of futuristic hit-man Joe (Gordon-Levitt). A Looper, as this type of hit-man is referred, is a contract killer whose job it is to dispose of unwanted people as their future selves. In other words, kill the people they can't somehow kill in the present when they're older, and possibly change the course of their present story.

Though his life unfolds in fragments as the film progresses, the audience gets right away that Joe's a far more complicated character than he's trying to convey. We see up front that he indulges in excess--drugs, partying, girls (or, actually, one girl who doesn't come cheap). But his outer layer, which seems even people who are close to him (including his "best friend" Seth, played briefly but effectively by Paul Dano) only get to see, is that he's the guy who gets the job done. Who's the kill? Where's the job? The end.

But his basic life falls off its course when Seth frantically shows up at his door to hide out from the Looper head honcho Abe (Jeff Daniels) and his gang after he leaves a job incomplete. The audience learns right away the consequence of that action and is therefore prepped and aptly concerned when Joe is faced with the same predicament.

As the story further unravels, we discover with Joe that Abe has dispatched an order to close the Loopers by having them kill off their future selves. Hence, in comes Bruce Willis as the older version of Joe, Joe's new assignment.

If it sounds like a lot to digest, it is. But the movie does a good job at maintaining a steady descent from one layer of the character to the next. Notably, when Willis' plot becomes more prominent, the movie goes off on a tailspin and the pace is amplified. It becomes a matter of the now two main characters chasing their own tails for different reasons.

Midway through the film, you're actually not sure whether you're watching a sci-fi, an action, or a horror film. And you don't care. Granted, there are a few cliches from each of the genres that are thrown in not gratuitously but rather matter of factly. When Joe seeks refuge on a farm, where he meets Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), we get two--a brief yet wanton romance and one of the creepiest kids in recent film (though the latter ties in nicely with the plot). Blunt is both heartbreaking and deeply compelling in the role that is much more worthy of her talent than the like-minded sci-fi dud The Adjustment Bureau. And she seems far more comfortable here.

Borrowing its time-leaping pace from films like Total Recall and Frequency, with the sophistication of The Matrix, Looper carves out a nice little niche for itself as an engaging genre-bender. It's more than flashy effects (which are top notch); it has excellent performances from the bottom to the top and a story that keeps you guessing until the very end. At its core, the movie is about a man who catches a glimpse of his future, which makes him acutely aware of the vicious cycle that has become his life and what he must do about it. While solid overall, the amount of twists and jumps the plot takes will more than likely require a second watch (or more), and after that you may be able to notice one or two plot holes that are covered in first glance by the film's elegance. The gaping one being that Cid's plot in the end that is literally put out to pasture.

Gordon-Levitt, who before this has yet to immerse himself into a role that makes us forget we're watching him, almost completely disappears into the role. Though that is likely due to the fact that the facial prosthetics he wears to appear like the younger version of Willis are completely transformative and natural. But then Gordon-Levitt flashes his trademark smirk, which reminds you it's him. That aside, it's clear he's having fun in the role. His chemistry with Willis, who's perfectly cast, is spot-on. And despite his signature pretty boy looks, he makes the role work for him without it overpowering him.

While he sometimes comes off merely ornamental in the grand scheme of Gordon-Levitt's performance, Willis smartly doesn't overwrought the film with any particular acting quirk. He's somewhat of a messenger in the film and gets that across swimmingly. As does Daniels, whose brooding demeanor mixed with his dark cynicism often throws a surprisingly wink at the audience.

A breath of fresh air as we creep into the heavy fall dramas and awards glitz, Looper will likely not be forgotten as the film that showed up and got the job done.

Rating: B+


Daniel said...

Excellent rundown Candice, this is really a film that'll bear repeat viewing quite well.

Dan O. said...

Good review Candice. This flick didn't kick as much ass as I expected it to with all of the hype surrounding it, but still a great job with it's premise and characters. Thankfully, it all made sense but if you do start to think about it all a bit too much, your love for the flick may start to fade away.

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