Friday, September 28, 2012

Looper: Back in time, with a Vengeance


Director Rian Johnson broke out as a name to watch in film circles with his 2006 movie 'Brick'. An amazing film noir with a high school setting. His film debut was so assured, he quickly topped the list of most exciting new directors around. His sophomore effort, 'The Brothers Bloom' was   widely considered somewhat of a disappointment (I personally didn't watch it). But now, judging by the critical reaction, Johnson is back to the top with his third feature. 

In 'Looper', Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a guy named Joe who has the titular job of killing men from the future. You see, in Joe's time time-travel hasn't yet been invented. But it will. And it will be immediately outlawed. The bad part is in the future forensics are so advanced that crime organizations can't dispose of the bodies of their victims. So they send the people they want to get rid of back in time so that good old Joe and other "loopers" like him kill them. The movies' plot-point (which is not a spoiler if you've seen the trailer) is that Joe's older self (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to be killed by ... himself (I guess that would be the correct wat to put it). 

'Looper' made me think a lot of Christopher Nolan's 'Inception', a film it has many similarities with (I don't know how much money 'Looper' will end up making, but I think in the right hands it could be a hit of 'Inception'-y proportions). Both are very exciting, well made action movies. And Both movies have a rather complex science fiction premise at the center and must deliver a lot of information about the mechanics of the situation. But whereas 'Inception' had constant explanations of what was going on by its characters, 'Looper' presents a more effective, integral way of explaining its premise. Which is to say, it has what I think is an objectively better screenplay than 'Inception'. It somehow avoids the constant paradoxes about time travel that movies have to deal with. It establishes quite quickly how this way of time travel works and runs with the premise. 

At the same time, for those who think it is a movie about Gordon-Levitt and Willis chasing and trying to kill each other, I have to tell you it's much smarter than that. Once a character played by Emily Blunt enters the picture gets really interesting. What filmmaker Rian Johnson has done here is take a concept and make a very effective movie out of it. Without getting into too many spoilers, the movie ends up bringing up some of the classical (and always interesting) questions about time-travel. 

More specifically, it gets into the great discussion about going back in time to do something that would prevent a greater catastrophe. Would you go back and kill Hitler seems to be the most popular of these questions. As an action movie, 'Looper' doesn't really explore or analyse the questions as much as bring them up as lining for its well-executed cake. And it is a better movie for it. I wouldn't have liked to sit and watch two hours of Butterfly-effect-like half-baked philosophical ideas. What I got was an extremely well made action movie with a clever premise and a couple of fun questions to ask yourself and your friends once you leave the theater. 

As I've said throughout, 'Looper' is an incredibly well-crafted movie. From its script to its production values. I doubt anyone who goes to see it will walk out disappointed. Still, somewhat oddly, the best thing about the movie isn't anything in it, but the promise of what director Rian Johnson might do next with his abilities. 

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