Fantastic Fest ’12: Looper – Review


Top-shelf time travel takes center stage in this original thriller

>Time travel is not an easy subject to explore. Too much emphasis on the science and the film becomes a slog for all but the most obsessive of sci-fi geeks. Too little effort, though, and the nitpicking of a slightly astute audience member can unravel the film as if they were pulling a thread from a sweater. Looper, the new film from director Rian Johnson, ably finds a balance between razor-sharp, comic book-inspired science fiction and genuine humanity. The result is a film that easily establishes itself in the upper echelon of time travel films, building from what’s come before and creating something new and exciting in a cinema landscape besmirched by unoriginality.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe Simmons, a hired gun for a Kansas City organized crime unit. When the film opens, it’s 2042 and time travel is still 30 years away from being invented. The future has learned to interact with the past, though. Simmons is a Looper, a hitman with the unique job of killing and disposing of those unlucky souls who have earned the wrath of the future’s crime lords. Sent back in time (it is apparently really hard to dispose of a body in the future), these hits are killed by the Looper and incinerated – providing the future mafia a way to dispose of their victims without changing the past. Part of being a Looper, though, is the knowledge that eventually you will need to close your own loop. As part of his contract with his bosses, Simmons knows the day will come where his future-self will be sent back in time and Simmons will have to kill himself. He copes with this knowledge through the use of a healthy drug habit, casual sex and the knowledge that soon he’ll have saved enough money to follow his dreams and move to France. Unfortunately, this dream unravels when Simmons – finally confronted with his future self, as played by Bruce Willis – finds himself unable to commit the execution. Now Simmons is on the run from his boss, in search of his future self and inexplicably drawn to a woman named Sara (Emily Blunt) and her mysterious son.

Looper‘s top strength is in its tightly constructed and emotionally-charged script from Johnson. The story never feels stale and will keep audiences enraptured as it slowly and deliberately plays out its cards for audience members. Despite the story’s pulp novel-influenced take on the sci-fi genre, Looper is not quite a noir but so many of the film’s cinematic influences can be traced back to the films of the ‘40s and ‘50s. By grounding the fantastic elements of the story’s science fiction plot with the gritty world of the Kansas City mafia (even a futuristic one), the story feels warmly familiar to American audiences – even as elements of the story begin to stretch – tendril-like –  into the world of Japanese manga and the European comic Metal Hurlant. This international feel (part of the film is set in China) contributes directly to the film’s fresh take on a sub-genre mined to death by American filmmakers.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are two sides of the same coin in Looper. Through the use of make-up effects and prosthetics (but mostly through the use of a genuinely amazing impersonation of Bruno by JGL), the gap between the two actors is filled – something that you rarely see in time travel movies. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has studied Bruce Willis’ performances as a young actor and mixes the sly, smirking Willis that audiences have come to know and love with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s own style – creating a new character that audiences will have no problem believing eventually grows into the Joe Simmons played by Bruce Willis. The most impressive tie between the two Joe Simmons, though, comes from the script.

Johnson craftily uses the idea of a person’s inner character to shine light on the motivation and actions of the two Joe Simmons. Choices that the two make are explored and echoed by both actors and sometimes actions that one actor makes may not seem obvious and come into light only when reflecting on the performance of the other actor.

In addition to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper features an impressive supporting cast that includes Emily Blunt as Sara, a woman who provides shelter to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as he runs from the mafia and whose son may provide an important clue to Joe Simmons’ future. Blunt sports an impressive Southern accent in the film and delivers the well-honed, tightly molded performance audiences have come to expect from the exceptional actress. Paul Dano, Noah Seagon and Garret Dillahunt have roles as Joe Simmons’ co-workers and each, in their own way, provide fascinating reflections of Simmons as a character and the directions he could have taken with his life. Jeff Daniels has a limited role as Abe, Simmons’ boss and a time traveler sent from the future to run things in the present. His father-son relationship with Simmons is a great contrast to the strained relationship Simmons has with his future-self.

Looper is a smartly-written, original film that has the action and special effects genre junkies are in search for and the emotional heart that cinephiles demand from their films. The movie is the perfect intersection of a Venn diagram depicting the best of what mainstream Hollywood is capable of producing and the joy of watching something new and exciting from emerging talent at a festival such as Fantastic Fest.

Director: Rian Johnson
Notable Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Seagan, Piper Perabo and Jeff Daniels
Writers: Rian Johsnon

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