Monday, 17 September 2012

Looper Review

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: In the year 2044 a highly lucrative crime organisation has hired a group of assassins to carry out the murders of dozens of people through the very illegal form of time travel. Once the victim is sent back through time to 2044 a ‘Looper’ like Joe (Gordon-Levitt) puts a bullet through them and incinerates them, completely obliterating them from the present and the future. As the Looper jobs become increasingly illicit the future employees start 'closing the loops’ by sending the assassin's future self back to be killed. This is what happens for Joe but once his older self (Willis) escapes, its up to Joe to kill him and stop criminal king-pin (Daniels) from executing them both.

Hollywood occasionally departs from formula and allows new and exciting talent to come forth and entertain. Usually when this happens a great gift is given to the cinematic sphere, and directors like Duncan Jones, Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson are proof of it. The latter has now directed three feature length films (and two fantastic Breaking Bad episodes) and the third will undoubtedly bring him to the attention of millions. Looper is bold, breathtaking and bloody – quite simply, pure entertainment.

Johnson’s impetus for making Looper never included the issue of box-office gross and it is wonderfully refreshing to see a film made purely on artistic merits. Johnson is an artist in every sense of the word and exemplifies the claim made by Orson Welles that “a film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet”. This is true of the Brick and Brothers Bloom director and Looper sees his knack for storytelling and visualisations grow ever stronger. The time-travel narrative is never an easy one to tackle and whilst Johnson’s efforts aren't always golden (his exposition of the subject within the film i.e. “let’s not talk about time travel” can sometimes seem lazy), his way of presenting it leads to a terrific story. As the director has noted in many press junkets for the film, the time travel essence is more of a device that paves the way for a more interesting series of events (much like The Terminator). He has made a film that will be enjoyed by many and through countless revisits and, whether or not it fairs well at the box office, it will become a cult classic.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rian Johnson have noted on several occasions, a Nolan-esque influence on Looper. They are not referring to explicit influences on story, character or visuals but, instead, the incentive to create a smart blockbuster. As complex as a film like Inception is, Looper has not shown any dilution in that form of storytelling since Christopher Nolan’s 2010 epic was released. Looper is as taut and intelligent as any sci-fi worth its salt. It is also a science fiction painted with a rich aesthetic that demands more than one viewing (a sure-fire way of making it a beloved movie). The only issue with the detail of the piece is that there is never enough time to absorb it all and even with a 118 minute running time; Looper’s biggest downfall is its duration.

The brilliance of the film lies mostly within the first 45 minutes where the lives of Loopers are explored and we are shown a vibrant and curious landscape. Were it not for a relatively small budget this atmosphere could be detailed zealously but unfortunately we see only snippets of the environment that the Loopers and criminals run around in. The desire to see more of how Loopers get into the profession or how the execution is planned can only be found in the first act, and not to the extent you may wish for. The first act that gives us an introduction to Joe’s line of work and the world he inhabits is so engaging that it warrants its own separate movie. Johnson isn’t particularly interested in that aspect and we are given a plot-line relating to Joe’s future self returning to the present, escaping and jeopardising lives and timelines. The cat and mouse chase between Joe, his older self and Jeff Daniels’ cronies, mounts the tension but the enthrallment felt does diminish slightly. There are a few moments in between the opening section and the grand finale that are wondrous (including a Heat-style diner discussion between Willis and Gordon-Levitt, and two terrific performances from Emily Blunt and newcomer Pierce Gagnon) but nothing captures the viewer’s attention like the unlawful land of the extensive prologue. As much as Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon steal some scenes, one may find more interest in the characters of Paul Dano and Garret Dillahunt who have sinfully short shares in the film’s narrative. There is more under the surface of Looper and one is always itching to take a look at it, often with regrettable inability.

Whatever the screen time of each character, a clear sense of motivation, personality and life is given to every single inhabitant of the Looper world. At the forefront is the charismatic Joseph Gordon-Levitt sporting an unfamiliar face. The image of Rick Deckard, Marty McFly or Neo can never lose their iconography and chances are Gordon-Levitt’s prosthetic pastiche of Bruce Willis’ face will endure. The make-up job does not always complement the young actor and it becomes quite distracting in certain moments, but it never completely overshadows his performance. He is an actor renowned for eclectic experiments with roles and genres; Looper was written just for him and he embraces that honour with great finesse. Casting has always been an additional strong suit of Johnson’s and not only having his friend take on the lead role, he recruits some of the best talent in the business. Older Joe, played with intensity and skill by Bruce Willis could, on paper, seem like a troubling feat – how would a Hollywood A-lister not outshine a younger talent? This concern is never apparent and, if anything, it is Gordon-Levitt who is the object of the viewer’s desires. Giving the film some warmth is needed for a cool thriller and Looper’s mid-section does nothing but award that.  The farm house scenes with Gagnon and Blunt are where the film’s humanity really shines through, both actors adding to the string of accomplished acting.

There are a few flaws in the narrative (but give the writer/director his due, time travel does lend itself easily to telling tales) but the sheer bravado of the entire film makes you overlook most problems. The vision is quite extraordinary and Steve Yedlin’s cinematographer is impressively reminiscent of Darius Khondji’s Seven photography or the dazzling displays in Blade Runner or L. A.Confidential. At the heart of Looper’s look is the noir atmosphere (especially the more interesting first half) and the maturity of this approach is so refreshing. The only downfall of the film is the production companies’ low budgeting that leaves Looper from becoming the grand masterpiece it should be.


By Piers McCarthy. A version of this was posted on Live For Films

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