Looper-attachment0

Looper

Movie Information

The Story: In the future hired assassins are paid to eliminate people from an even more distant future -- even if the target happens to be an assassin's future self. The Lowdown: An involving, first-rate and extremely intelligent science fiction film that works on every level, though I confess to finding it slightly less compelling than the filmmaker's previous work. Still, it's a must-see for anyone interested in smart, stylish movies.
Score:

Genre: Science Fiction
Director: Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels
Rated: R

Rian Johnson’s Looper is probably responsible for the strangest five-star review I’ve ever written. Here’s the thing — I think the film is frequently brilliant and never less than excellent. It’s exciting, intelligent, well-crafted and easily the best science fiction movie I’ve seen since Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007). Looked at in that light, there’s nothing strange about giving it the full five. Similarly, it’s a film I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw it. I should note that I don’t mean that in the sense of online discourses about the logistics of time travel — an area of argument the film itself wisely refuses to get into. No, this is more in the sense of being haunted by its emotional resonance and craftsmanship. All these things are in the film’s favor. So where is any of this strange? That’s easy. It’s a five-star movie that I am nonetheless somewhat disappointed by. Let’s put it this way: If you lined up Johnson’s three features — Brick (2006), The Brothers Bloom (2009), and this — and asked me to pick one to watch, Looper would be my last choice. (And that’s even recognizing that Looper is better made than Brick.)

Even granting that what we’re talking about is essentially splitting hairs over degrees of superlatives, I can’t shake the sense that Looper is a step — however intelligent a step — away from the quirky personal vision of Johnson’s first two films and toward the realm of mainstream Hollywood moviemaking. It’s by no means a “sellout,” but comparatively speaking, this is a much more “normal” movie. The personal touches and concerns are in there, but they’re less pronounced. I can certainly draw a line between the lonely, rather bleak country roads at the end of this film and those at the end of The Brothers Bloom, for example. The fact that the headquarters of the Looper organization is in a nightclub named after the cafe in Casablanca (La Belle Aurore) offers a touch of nostalgia for more graceful past eras — as does Joe’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) affectation for wearing a necktie. The same is true of the ersatz-noir narration. These things — along with its occasional outcroppings of somewhat grisly humor — are pure Rian Johnson. And the more I think about them and recognize others, the more I like Looper.

I realize I’ve gone a good way without saying all that much about Looper on its own merits apart from Johnson’s larger body of work. That’s not entirely accidental, because the less you know about the movie and its undeniably high concept premise, the better off I think you’ll be. Let’s just say that it’s set in the future — well, two futures actually — where the gangsters of the more distant future dispose of people by sending them back in time to be assassinated and disposed of by hired killers called Loopers. The catch to all this is that one day a Looper’s future self will be sent back to be assassinated by his earlier self. The main story involves what happens when Joe fails to kill his older self (Bruce Willis). Beyond that, I’m not saying anything. If that idea and the complexities it suggests (and there are even more complexities it doesn’t begin to) appeal to you, then you should see the film and let it fill in the rest.

I will say that the film is beautifully crafted, acted and written. Gordon-Levitt is wholly convincing as the younger Bruce Willis — and Willis reminds us that he actually can act if he wants to (or maybe only if the material is good enough to make him bother). Emily Blunt gives one of her best performances here — totally banishing memories of The Five-Year Engagement earlier this year. But in many ways, the performance that most intrigued me came from Jeff Daniels as the enigmatic mob boss from the future. Actually, there’s not a bad performance in the film — and no real false steps of any kind. That I found it less compelling than Johnson’s previous films may simply show my preference for a different type of movie — and in no way does it keep this from being a 2012 must-see. Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

39 thoughts on “Looper

  1. Dionysis

    Well, I’ve always liked intelligent science fiction and this sounds like a movie I would really like to see. I guess I’ll just have to check it out this weekend.

    As an aside, I think Bruce Willis turned in a good performance in another science fiction film, ’12 Monkeys’.

  2. Xanadon't

    Rian Johnson provided a major breath of fresh air in the American indie-film world by demonstrating with Brick that creativity and professionalism don’t have to be mutually exclusive despite what so many Too Cool for Tripoders seem to think. If he can do the same type of thing in the Hollywood blockbuster arena I think that’s great!

  3. Ken Hanke

    If he can do the same type of thing in the Hollywood blockbuster arena I think that’s great!

    I’d be the last to disagree, but I still like the two earlier films better.

  4. Dionysis

    “If he can do the same type of thing in the Hollywood blockbuster arena I think that’s great!”

    I completely agree, and judging from Ken’s review, he may have accomplished just that.

  5. Dionysis

    I never saw ‘Brick’, wrongly perceiving it as some silly teen flick. Now I need to watch it, and happily found that I can watch it as an Amazon Prime member for free, so in a couple of hours I’ll check it out.

  6. Xanadon't

    I originally dismissed it in similar fashion and it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I sat down with it.

    Hope you enjoy!

  7. Orbit DVD

    What I love about Johnson is that he is pretty much over the map with genres: neo-noir, crime caper now sci-fi.

    This is the probably the most believable film about time travel that I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

  8. Jeremy Dylan

    But in many ways, the performance that most intrigued me came from Jeff Daniels as the enigmatic mob boss from the future.

    To me, Daniels’ character is the aspect of the film that is most reminiscent of BRICK.

  9. Jeremy Dylan

    What I love about Johnson is that he is pretty much over the map with genres: neo-noir, crime caper now sci-fi.

    Well, this and BRICK are both ersatz noir films with a twist – in BRICK’s case, the twist is the high school setting, here it’s the time travel aspect.

    • Orbit DVD

      Personally I wouldn’t consider it noir. I know that a femme fatale is not in EVERY film noir ever made, but they almost always show up.

  10. Ken Hanke

    What I love about Johnson is that he is pretty much over the map with genres

    We already have Soderbergh for that.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Personally I wouldn’t consider it noir.

    Now, you’re getting into a whole different realm. I know people who say ir ain’t noir if it’s in color. There are many definitions, it seems.

    • Orbit DVD

      Plenty of great color noir, although they are made after the era. I just don’t see those elements in LOOPER.

  12. Orbit DVD

    And I want to echo on how great Daniels is in this movie. He needs to get out of the UP more and make some films.

    ***SPOILER***

    I believe that the dumbass thug is actually a younger Daniels. Thoughts?

  13. Jeremy Dylan

    I wasn’t fooling around
    Everything’s true that I said
    So take me seriously
    Darling, please just take me
    I wasn’t fooling around

    – Steven Soderbergh

  14. Ken Hanke

    Plenty of great color noir, although they are made after the era. I just don’t see those elements in LOOPER.

    (You and that goddamn “reply” button.) My point was that there’s no real concensus on what is or isn’t noir. For example, I do see noir elements in Looper — if only in tone and that quasi-Philip Marlowe narration. The same is true of The Brothers Bloom — a film I wouldn’t call “a crime caper,” which you did. That’s the thing that I like about Johnson — not a single one of these movies is specifically any one genre. They all contain elements of other genres that blend into something of their own.

    As concerns your spoiler question. I know that’s a popular interpretation, but I’m not sure I buy it. It more struck me that…

    Spoilers….

    the character has a penchant for street boys (Gordon-Levitt was an earlier one) that he tries to turn into something more. This one is not one of his more successful attempts.

  15. Justin Souther

    Thoughts?

    Spoiler…

    I think Bridges calling him a “stupid shit” right after Willis calls Gordon-Levitt the same thing is the best evidence.

  16. Xanadon't

    I dunno… Daniels smashes the guy’s hand pretty good with that hammer. Was he really willing to live out the rest of his years with a horrible mitt? I wouldn’t even want to live the next four years with a horrible mitt.

  17. Ken Hanke

    I wouldn’t even want to live the next four years with a horrible mitt.

    If you hadn’t said it, I would have.

  18. Xanadon't

    In fact I agree with you when you say you’d be more inclined to revisit either of Johnson’s first two films. And while it might sound odd to most, I’d sooner revisit The Master as well.

  19. Lisa Watters

    This was a great movie, both fun and complex. The only complaint I have is Gordon-Levitt’s makeup; I found it distracting and unrealistic. It felt like his acting didn’t come across as well as usual because of all the bits and pieces stuck to his face. I think they could have just added a Roman nose like Willis’s and changed his eye color and we would have been more than willing to believe Gordon-Levitt was a younger version of Willis. This is a small complaint; while it kept it from being a perfect movie for me it is still possibly the best movie I’ve seen this year.

  20. Ken Hanke

    And while it might sound odd to most, I’d sooner revisit The Master as well.

    Not having seen The Master, I don’t know if it sounds odd.

  21. Xanadon't

    That’s surprising to me, even if Anderson has been pulling a 20th century Scorsese on you. Do you plan to see it before it leaves town? Surely P.T. has become Too Big To Ignore, no?

  22. Ken Hanke

    The only complaint I have is Gordon-Levitt’s makeup; I found it distracting and unrealistic.

    Funny thing is I went in expecting to find it distracting, but I never really did.

  23. Ken Hanke

    Do you plan to see it before it leaves town? Surely P.T. has become Too Big To Ignore, no?

    I have every intention of seeing it if I can. (Bear in mind, my mobility is a bit limited these days and the no. of times I can go into town over the course of any given week varies — in part based on such mundane concerns as how many times I can fill up my portable air tank and still have enough 02 till the next delivery.) I wonder, though, is anybody really Too Big To Ignore? I mean, there are those who’d say that’s true of Michael Haneke and Bela Tarr — and I’m dubious of one and have sworn I’m losing not one more minute of my life to watching anything else by the latter. I’ve seen and — to varying degrees — liked everything Anderson has made, but I have to admit my level of just plain interest in this one is low. I don’t like Joaquin Phoenix. It worries me that Justin — who thinks Anderson is the bee’s knees far more than I do — wanted to love it and didn’t quite. Hearing the justification for its seeming lack of a payoff as being “like real life” ain’t a selling point. (If I want “like real life” I’ll go watch the people in line at the DMV.) Now, all that said, I do plan on seeing it.

  24. Xanadon't

    I wonder, though, is anybody really Too Big To Ignore?

    Ordinarily I’d say no. It’s only when I think of it in terms of a professional film critic and his relationship to the art form that he is paid to critique that I begin to question the idea. Now certainly no one can see everything. But when it comes time for year-end reviews and Best of Lists and whatnot it would just seem curious if you or any established critic hadn’t yet gotten around to something as high-profile and flanked by reputation as the latest P.T. Anderson film (or Tarantino or Polanski or hell, even Nolan)

    I mean, there are those who’d say that’s true of Michael Haneke and Bela Tarr — and I’m dubious of one and have sworn I’m losing not one more minute of my life to watching anything else by the latter.

    Yes, well this is where personal (good?) taste begins to enter the conversation. And I wouldn’t necessarily rush to meet those people. But even so, one could argue that there remains a certain level of obscurity to either director and his work, at least within the U.S. market.

    Ah, but then again there’s nobody less obscure than Spielberg, yet by and large I wouldn’t think twice about a ‘Best of’ list penned by someone who decided, what the hell, I’m skipping this one. So yeah- matters of taste will always play into things at some level.

    I don’t like Joaquin Phoenix.

    I’m far from keen on him myself, but personally I found it impossible not to admire his performance and wonder at how exhausting it must have been and how he ever recovered.

    It worries me that Justin — who thinks Anderson is the bee’s knees far more than I do — wanted to love it and didn’t quite.

    That gave me cause for concern too. But then I think of the several times I’ve wanted to love a Kubrick film, did not, and yet have never felt sorry to have seen it.

    Hearing the justification for its seeming lack of a payoff as being “like real life” ain’t a selling point.

    I don’t like that justification and I think there are more interesting things to be read in the film’s final scenes. And in truth I think the film is far more interesting than loveable. But I think those movies can sometimes be every bit as satisfying.

    Now, all that said, I do plan on seeing it.

    Oh good!

  25. Ken Hanke

    It’s only when I think of it in terms of a professional film critic and his relationship to the art form that he is paid to critique that I begin to question the idea.

    After reading Betsy Sharkey’s LA Times review of Frankenweenie I’m more of the opinion that a good remedial course in film history might be a greater concern. (Among other things, her notion of the “Bride of Frankenstein” lightning-streaked hair is apparently grounded in the idea that it originated with Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein.) Now, you may say that this is a separate consideration altogether, but is it? I’m personally far less comfortable with that kind of thing than I am with whether or not she’s seen every “important” picture that comes out this year.

    Yes, well this is where personal (good?) taste begins to enter the conversation. And I wouldn’t necessarily rush to meet those people. But even so, one could argue that there remains a certain level of obscurity to either director and his work, at least within the U.S. market.

    I wouldn’t argue this, but in a very real sense neither is Paul Thomas Anderson a household name outside of more serious moviegoing circles. Like it or not, that’s largely true of most filmmakers you and I talk about as a matter of course.

  26. Big Al

    “I don’t like Joaquin Phoenix.”

    For all of his vaunted “method acting”, I saw very little difference in his “Master” character than in previous ones, i.e Johnny Cash, “Two Lovers”, etc. From observations of his personal appearances, Phoenix is simply a dark, morose and reclusive individual, so it is very easy for him to play himself. He is definitely no Daniel Day-Lewis.

    It was his journey, his lines and his decisions more than his behavioral nuaunces that told the story of a rudderless drifter caught in the web of a manipulator, all of which was the creation of the writer, not the actor. Frankly, I think any half-competent actor could have done as well (if not better) than Phoenix. It was Hoffman and Adams’ performances that made this movie. Phoenix just played off them.

    I did like “Walk the Line”, but I think that was more a case of matching an actor’s natural state of being to that of the character (or screenwritten version of them), which probably happens at least once in every actor’s career.

  27. Edwin Arnaudin

    If only the farmhouse stretch didn’t slow LOOPER’s pace to a crawl. I don’t remember BRICK or BLOOM having anything so sleepy. That bit and not spending quite enough time with Old Joe and his wife to completely invest in his mission are what keep LOOPER from being as rich as Johnson’s earlier films. Otherwise, it’s spectacular.

  28. Ken Hanke

    I did like “Walk the Line”, but I think that was more a case of matching an actor’s natural state of being to that of the character (or screenwritten version of them), which probably happens at least once in every actor’s career

    See Peter Weller in Naked Lunch. I can’t say I cared much for Walk the Line, but it might be my lack of interest in a Johnny Cash biopic. I liked him okay in Two Lovers and remember (very vaguely) liking him in Quills. But…it’s gonna be a long time before I forget I’m Still Here.

  29. Ken Hanke

    If only the farmhouse stretch didn’t slow LOOPER’s pace to a crawl. I don’t remember BRICK or BLOOM having anything so sleepy.

    I don’t think I’d quite call it a crawl, though it is slower than the rest of the film.

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