Sunday, October 14, 2012

Looper - Theatrical Review

Release Date: September 28, 2012

Get ready to discover the new standard for the action/sci-fi genre and one of the best movies of the year. Get ready to discover, Looper.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Edwards 22 Ontario Mills
Time: 12:20 am September 29, 2012   
Projector Type: Digital 2D   
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 59 min
Studio: Film District

Loves: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Time travel stories, well constructed future worlds
Likes: Jeff Daniels, smart sci-fi 
Neutral: Rian Johnson, "Brick", "The Brothers Bloom"
Hates: nothing
Kansas city in 2044: Isn't looking so hot

It is the year 2044. Time travel hasn't been invented yet, but in 30 years it will be. Instantly outlawed, the technology is only used by the criminal underworld. They use specialized assassins called Loopers, a hodge-podge of hitmen that kill whoever is sent back in time....even themselves. When these assassins kill their future selves (called closing the loop), they are given a payday to retire from the business until they meet their ultimate fate at their own hands three decades later. This system becomes unstable however when a mysterious man from the future only known as The Rainmaker begins systematically closing all the loops which leaves one particular looper, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on the run when he fails to close his own loop (Bruce Willis) when he arrives.

Every once in a great while a film comes along that redefines a genre. This year alone we have seen the action movie genre redefined by the amazing martial arts film "The Raid: Redemption". Then we saw the horror genre turned on its head by the instant classic "The Cabin in the Woods". Then we got the ultimate super hero extravaganza the likes of which had never been seen before with "The Avengers". Now with writer/director Rian Johnson's new film "Looper", we have a new standard set for the sci-fi/time travel genre.

Loopers kill their targets without regret since they never know who they are.

Whenever the laws of time and space are broken so that we may enjoy a bit of fiction where the implausible suddenly becomes plausible, it takes a talented individual to make the audience buy into what they are selling. Time travel is probably one of the most difficult sci-fi conceits to nail down. Spaceships, laser rifles, aliens and other dimensions could actually exist at some point in time, if not today then perhaps somewhere in the future, but time travel will never exist. It has never been a question of technology, money or intellect, it simply cannot happen.

One of the many miraculous things about "Looper" is that Johnson has created a plausible future where time travel actually feels like it could exist. It's all just smoke and mirrors with clever writing, plotting and casting actors who can sell every ounce of it, but the expertly crafted world of "Looper" will have you believing that time travel is an actual possibility, even if in your bones you know it could never happen. This level craftsmanship comes from how well he pieces everything together, how well he explains the ins and outs of the society and ultimately how smart this unlikely future is realized.

Joe is one of the many Loopers who will soon be faced with closing his loop.

Told mostly through narration by Joe, the audience is given a deceptively elaborate blue print for how things work in 2044. Who and what loopers are, why they do what they do despite knowing one day they will be faced with killing themselves and leaving the rest to your imagination. It is a tricky balancing act that many fail at (RepoMen, The Hunger Games), explain too much and you risk losing your audience amidst a sea of techno-babble, leave too much unanswered and you risk leaving your audience questioning the plausibility of everything being presented to them. "Looper" finds that perfect balance and never over explains anything while also explaining just enough to answer most logical questions posed by the actions of the characters in relation to the reality they live in.

Part of the fun of any time travel film though, and most certainly this one, is seeing how it handles those questions and Johnson's brilliant script provides some extremely clever scenarios with equally clever outcomes and developments. Even more impressive are the number of questions raised that had never been addressed in a time travel film before and how it all feeds into some of the most well rounded characters you are likely to see in any film, science fiction or otherwise, this year.

Old Joe and young Joe have a little chat.

Often times pushed aside in favor of the spectacle and grandeur afforded by a future world/society, the characters in a sci-fi story are generally one note. They are either a good guy or a bad guy, someone looking to right a wrong or save themselves and end up haphazardly saving the day. You rarely ever get a character with complications in their lives or anything even resembling an introspective look into the human condition. It's even less involving for a time travel plotline where the main protagonist usually has to deal with either being stuck in a particular point in time, must use time travel to fix something or tries to prevent a paradox from occurring, in other words the story often times trumps the characters. Only the best of what the genre has to offer has ever given us characters that aren't simply devices for the plot, but living breathing people that have to make some hard decisions and look into their soul for answers to questions not easily reached.

The character work in "Looper" is second to none in this regard. Even most dramas don't go the extra mile establishing their characters and giving them this amount of emotional weight. What starts out seeming like a formulaic action/sci-fi fable with a few clever tricks up its sleeve quickly turns into one of the best character dramas of the past year. Most of the acclaim must go to Rian Johnson for putting the importance of character development above all else and giving those characters just the right amount of rough edges so they are easily relatable without becoming stereotypes. But the casting choices are also quite brilliant, with one being particularly inspired.

Sara will stop at nothing to protect her little boy.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most talented actors working today. His ability to pick quality scripts is only outdone by his immense acting ability to morph into whatever personality a role requires. Wearing some convincing, if a little silly at times, make-up to appear as a younger version of Bruce Willis, the actor doesn't rely on the prosthetics to convince the audience of his lineage, he takes it a step further and adopts all of Willis' mannerisms, facial expressions and even his trademark yell at times. While it isn't unheard of for an actor to disappear into a role like this, it is nevertheless still awe inspiring and quite humbling to see such a lack of vanity.

The rest of the cast is first rate as well, with Emily Blunt turning in a very subdued but strongly emotional performance, Jeff Daniels as the mob boss underplays it to perfection and Pierce Gagnon as Blunt's child stealing the show on more than one occasion. Then there is Bruce Willis, an actor who is viewed only in certain lights despite having a very wide range of acting talents. Casting him in this role is some sort of masterstroke by Johnson, but not for the reasons most would think. Using the audience's perception of the mega star, Johnson joyfully pulls the rug out from under our feet by giving him a very unexpected arc in where his character goes and what he must do to get there. Suffice to say that it will be very interesting how Willis' fans will react to such a drastic departure from his usual shtick.

Old Joe is on a mission to save his life, but present and future.

Where the film's character work truly shines is in the interactions between young and old Joe, they are essentially the same person yet they have completely different lives, ambitions and memories. Young Joe is just getting his life started and old Joe has life experiences from the past 30 years that have shown him the life his younger self is leading is worthless, yet young Joe doesn't want to hear any of it. It's equivalent to a grandchild shrugging off the advice of their grandparent only to realize years later they were right.

In one of the best scenes of the film we see both versions of Joe sitting at a diner and clash with a battle of verbiage as each tries to convince the other that they have their best interests at hand. The interplay between the two actors is nothing short of brilliant. The scene works beautifully as this sort of tragic look at a person who is just trying to save their life, one by trying to save his younger self and the other by trying to survive in his current time by killing his older self. It's moments like those which are littered throughout the film that are at the heart of what makes "Looper" the success it is.

Young Joe is out to stop his older self from completing his mission.

With all this praise you may be thinking this is one of the most flawless films ever made and unfortunately you would be wrong to think that. As much as it gets right and despite trying admirably to cover all its basis with time paradoxes and explaining the unexplainable, there are still some fairly major plot holes that keep it from becoming the definitive time travel film. Many of these inconsistencies are nothing more than nitpicks that could have been easily explained away by a little more information. How the loopers know exactly when their target is sent back to them is left a mystery as is how the tracking system of the future actually makes it difficult to dispose of bodies (a question raised due to a death that takes place in the future with seemingly no consequences).

Then you have questions popping up about how something that happens to a present day version of a person effects the future version but apparently not all the versions in the time between them or if it does effect them, how exactly that impacts the future since it has been changed. Thankfully most story related inconsistencies or glossed over character motivations are resolved by the end of the film which is where most of the films issues lie. These are admittedly silly and inconsequential queries that most will never even think about until perhaps their second or third viewing, but for fans of time travel stories these are the questions that count. Ultimately most audiences will be so swept up by the striking visuals, engrossing action and compelling drama to worry about such issues which renders most of these complaints moot.

Whatever failings "Looper" may have, mostly dealing with some logic gaps in how time travel in this world works, none of that changes the fact that this is just a remarkable achievement across the board and an outstanding bit of filmmaking. By putting character development before spectacle, Rian Johnson has given us a new standard for the genre and a film that will only get better over time. Comprised of stellar performances from everyone involved and a story that actually takes center stage over the usual pyrotechnics found in the action/sci-fi genre, this is a film that will be celebrated for years to come as every other film in its respective genre from this point forward will be compared and/or likened to it until the next filmmaker comes along to set an all new standard, which isn't likely to happen any time soon. If its brilliance isn't recognized now, it most certainly will be in the future.





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