Suck It, Future-Me: Looper Review

“I’m from the future. Go to China.”

I’m not going to recap the plot. Every blog, website, and newspaper article has tried their hand at summing up the story.

note: I tried very hard to stay spoiler-free, but it’s hard to do that with a movie like this

Speaking from experience, both personal and via the hundreds of pieces of media I’ve consumed, there comes a very special time in a young man’s life when he tells an older, wiser, and more versed person to go to Hell.

It doesn’t matter what this person says, knows, or has lived, the young man is sure that whatever that person is telling him isn’t true.

“You don’t know.”

“What happened to you won’t happen to me.”

“I’m better.”

“Smarter.”

“Meaner.”

“Luckier.”

“It does not matter. It will not, ever, happen to me like it happened to you.”

These young men are wrong, of course. Most of the time it’s chalked up to universal truths that must leave their mark. These are lessons that can’t be taught; they must be felt. These are the mistakes that are made when youthful exuberance meets ignorance.

And there is no force on Earth, not even time travel, not even a future version of you who has literally made every choice you want to, telling you, to your face, that there is  a better way.

This is one of the two major thematic elements of Looper, and this narrative thread is begun with a fantastic scene, glimpsed for a few seconds in the trailer, of Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt having a sit down to discuss just what is going on; what is going to happen, and what the other guy plans to do about it.

The second major thematic element is “getting what’s mine.”

The future appears to be just on the other side of  dystopia. It’s filled with people trying to get what they perceive as theirs; discovering what it is they truly need, and the lengths they’ll go to keep it.

Every character in this movie has in their head what they want out of life: money, power, freedom, and happiness all come up in different ways. One character wants to escape to Europe. One wants a lover back. One wants the respect and prestige befitting his station. One wants a quiet, uninterrupted life. One wants things to simply go according to plan. One wants to not fail those they’re close to again.

Mondo should do every movie poster from now on, forever.

These themes of knowing what’s good for someone else and “getting what’s mine” are, in the end, what this movie is truly about, and it explores said themes in parts equally lyrical and brutal, but always organic.

Nothing feels contrived or forced. Every action and every word character makes may not be the choice the audience would make, but it stays true to the characters as established.

Speaking of characters, let’s talk about our time-crossed cynics: the Joes.

“I’ll have what he’s having.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who ably played a bundle of teenaged angst and neuroses by way of Dashiell Hammett in Rian Johnson’s Brick, gets to play world weary.  I mean that in the most literal sense. The young Joe is tired of his life. He’s tired of being a looper. He’s tired of pretending to care about the 20th century throwback stuff that’s trendy. He’s tired of pretending he’s love with a prostitute. He’s tired of taking eye-dropper drugs just to feel something.

Levitt nails it. He brings a sense of finality to the whole thing, which is fitting given his occupation, but whereas Willis’ versions of Joe seems more hopeful about the future, or at least that he can affect it, Levitt’s younger Joe seems resigned that he is locked into his fate, and simply wants to get it back on track.

Let’s talk make-up; yes, Levitt wore a prosthetic nose, and looks like some more stuff on his brow to bridge the gap between himself and Willis. Much like Dredd’s helmet, the make-up looks much better in motion than it does in still pictures. No, it doesn’t look like a younger Willis in Moonlighting, but he does look like someone who could grow up to look like something close to Bruce Willis. Levitt did a spectacular job learning to do a performance using Willis’s tics and looks and it’s a shame awards usually aren’t given to genre fare, because Levitt has to carry the movie and he knocks it out of the park.

I’m not positive this is from Looper, but it’s hard to find an image of Willis from this movie that isn’t even slightly spoilery.

Bruce Willis, as the old Joe, acts, truly acts, for the first time in years. Possibly a decade. There’s no winking at the audience like in Ocean’s 12 or simply playing a “Bruce-Willis-type” from the Expendables or Cop Out. Gone is the sleepwalking in the unfortunate direct-to-video stuff that’s populating shelves at the store. Granted I haven’t seen Moonrise Kingdom, because I’m allergic to twee, but as a life-long Willis fan, he’s not been this good in ages.

It’s not a huge stretch for him, but you feel the difference when he’s trying. Willis has a few scenes to sink his teeth into some emotive moments and he humanizes the other half of Joe when he could have just played a hard ass.

I’ve read a few reviews critique an action beat towards the end that Willis has. Some claim it’s out of place or was added so Willis can have a scene with a ton of shooting. I disagree. You’ll know it when you see it, but to me it felt cathartic. It’s earned, and there’s a sequence earlier that establishes Joe as being capable of these actions.

Emily Blunt anchors the movie as someone trying to get what she wants but exists outside of the world of the Joes. Whereas the worldview of the Joes would make one think that the future and everything in it revolves around crime syndicates and the assassins they employ; Blunt’s Sara shows us that it’s not true. There’s a whole world out there, and Young Joe’s ability to realize it proves to be a major departure for the two characters playing the same man.

Sara is strong-willed, but vulnerable. She’s never a “grrrrrrl” that overcompensates by defying all the female stereotypes that she becomes unfeminine, but she’s not a damsel-in-distress, either. She’s every bit as defined as the Joes and she has her own motivations, dreams, and secrets.

Sara’s son, Cid, played by Pierce Gangon is a phenomenal child actor. The kid is called on to play a lot of different emotions, sometimes in the same scene and he nails it. I don’t want to say more, but it’s truly a great performance, and not just for a kid. Its a great performance, period.

Noah Segan was in Johnson’s Brick and like that film, Segan’s called on to play a character that the audience won’t like. While not a true villain,  he spends both movies as a little shit, but to his credit he never lets himself fall neatly into any sort of cliche or trope. I’m beating this particular horse to death, but Segan’s Kid Blue is a complicated dude who spends the movie chasing what he wants to get what he feels he deserves no matter what. I felt sorry for Kid Blue even though I never wanted him to win.

That’s a hell of a thing.

Jeff Daniels shows up for an extended cameo, gets an awesome speech, a few good burns, and basically shows us all what it looks like when he delivers actual dialogue and doesn’t yell at us for being stupid/young/technologically adept/not in awe of Aaron Sorkin on behalf of Aaron Sorkin. Also, great beard.

“I’M the Looper now and YOU stand behind the camera n’ shit!”

Rian Johnson can make a movie. I haven’t seen his second feature, the Brothers Bloom, but I love his first film, Brick, which is on Netflix and you should all watch it. In Brick Johnson manages to take two disparate genres and blend them together to turn both on their heads and come up with something new: a high school coming of age movie as a noir murder mystery. I can understand how the rapid-fire dialogue steeped in 1940’s and ’50’s slang could throw off some people, but I ate it up.

The juxtaposition of high school and noir worked so well because of how it took the task of combining them honestly and straight-faced  while still gently lampooning both film both genres for being self important. Brick seriously examined the genres holding themselves too serious.

It juxtaposes it’s own juxtaposition!

WE HAVE TO GO DEEPER.

*BRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMM*

When you’re in high school, nothing’s more important than high school. That first love, or what you think is love, will diminish all loves that came before or will follow after in the entirety of history. Your status in high school matters more than anything. The way you present yourself, sometimes self-consciously, is more important than anything else. So too in noir, nothing matters but the case. No one else in the entire world has any motivations or lives outside of how their life pertains to your mystery. Everything is taken in and translated to the audience via the filter and blinders set up by the protagonist just. like. high. school.

Johnson works the same magic in Looper. This was not the film I was expecting going into the theater. I was expecting a high-concept action movie where time travel was used to play with the action genre.

This is not an action movie with time travel in it. This a western, a Leone style western, no less, made possible by time travel.

While it never feels slow, the movie is deliberately paced and takes its time to set up characters and their conflicts. The action beats serve as more of a release of tension than something the movie leads up to. In a movie whose foundation is built on time hopping, a lot of it is spent waiting for the other guy to make his movie, to show his hand. It’s the Man with No Name waiting for the gangs to act in A Fistful of Dollars.  It’s the unbearable tension of High Noon with jet bikes.

In Looper there is no right. There is no wrong. There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. There are people doing bad things, certainly, but there’s no moral righteousness in this film, only the murky gray, and then we see all the different sides come together after each side has made their choice.

I gush over Looper because it feels like a movie made just for me. It has action, great dialogue, awesome characters, but it never feels like too much. It walks a fine line between the action movies, genre pictures, westerns, and dramatic showcase Oscar bait. It’s an adult movie for people who don’t want to watch actors or directors showing off. It’s an action movie for people who want to think.

I wish we would get more movies like Looper.

Matt

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Posted on October 2, 2012, in Matt Loman, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. If Looper was a thinking man’s movie, then we’ve run out of thinkers. What an abysmal film.

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