Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rian Johnson's LOOPER

A 'Looper' is someone who, in the near future - about three decades from now, and then three decades after those three decades - works for the mob.  There is time travel in the future, but it's outlawed (why exactly? who cares - well, then again, maybe it's too much power to wield, which has its own can of worms you can consider, but I digress).  So the mob has it and uses it to kill people, since also, in the future, you can't really get a good killing when forensics is super-ahead of the curve.  So, throw the guy in a time machine with a sack over his head, and the Looper is right there with a shotgun (here called a 'blunderbuss', which I think was the name of Jack White's last album, but I digress again), and will blow the guy away.  Simple, easy, and on the way.  Oh, and the guy being killed has a shitload of silver attached.

A Looper gets paid well, as we see with Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is given a character named just for him by writer/director Rian Johnson), who does drugs with eye-droppers and drives fast cars and screws hookers.  It's a life, of course.  But then the rub: a Looper has to know his time will only go so long as a killer, as the mob doesn't want loose ends: their future self will be sent back, and the Looper will kill his future self (they know it cause gold is attached instead of silver, clever touch), and then sent away to spend his days in a life of luxury... for thirty years, until the 'loop is closed' as it were.  But that doesn't always happen, we also learn from our steely-eyed and hmm-he-looks-like-a-famous-movie-star Joe, and in that case a Looper is fucked if he lets his older self go.  Early on we see what happens when Paul Dano does such a thing, a little moment of (self) humanity that curses him right away.  When your younger self goes, little by little, the older self goes too.  It's like a much more graphic version of the picture "erasing from existence" in Back to the Future.

Some days you just can't get rid of a - oh wait, here's the blunderbuss BOOM

Johnson's genius is the have little tips of the cinematic-trope hat to some past time travel movies - the two most prevalent ones for me have always been 'Future' and The Terminator, and they're both referenced to one degree or another, just not *too* explicitly - but making this world of the 'Looperverse' all his own, as a cinematic and emotional ride.  Hell, it even owes more, gleefully I'd note, to dark-shaded (hard-R rated) film-noir and gangster pictures, only this time without that noir-ish dialog Johnson had his characters speak in Brick (then again there is an edge to it anyway, maybe closer to a super hard-boiled noir like Fritz Lang's The Big Heat - no bullshit killers and fringe folk).  Jeff Daniels, yes Jeff Daniels in a full beard and quiet demeanor, is the closest to a real villain in the film as Abe, in the back-room of a night-cum-strip-club and a fellow actually from the future who basically runs the city (we're not told more than that - frankly, I didn't need it), and is very imposing almost because he doesn't look to be.  He could be the good and bad cop, the good father or the one who takes a hammer and bashes your hand in.  So it goes.

Once Johnson gets the plot rolling - and you know from the trailer this bit, where young Joe sees Old Joe, and Old Joe (Bruce Willis, that's the guy) isn't having it - he does something very fascinating, and that I'm more than glad, almost ecstatic to see: honest to goodness storytelling.  Suddenly we see what is an 'alternate' time-line, yet one that still is really *the* story of the film.  It's hard to explain, but you just see it being told, and by then the narration from Joe has subsided, and we see Joe over the course of thirty years, go through his motions of being a 'retired' bad-ass as a killer, and then settling down with a Chinese woman he has found love, and actual peace and security and a connection, with.  That's the kind of thing that can't be broken - that is until the 'powers that be' do just that.  This sets Old Joe on a mission to kill a certain little boy that will set things in motion that will muck up the whole Looper program called 'The Rainmaker'.

So, yeah, in short, don't fuck with Jeff Daniels.
 To say much more than that would require a big fat spoiler at the top.  I won't say much more, or try to, except that it's around this time, right after a hefty dialog between young/old Joe at a coffee shop that may be the most memorable of its kind since De Niro and Pacino faced off in Heat (for its simplicity in compositions, yet so much said by just letting the actors tell themselves and the story at the same time), that we meet Emily Blunt's character.  She would appear to be the 'dame' of the story, though that might diminish her somewhat formidable stature with a shotgun.  Yet she reminded me of something I had taken for granted: aside from the natural-beauty part of her, Blunt is a terribly good actress, especially here where she has to juggle a lot of different thoughts and feelings with her character, and especially with another character she has to protect.

Johnson may even have her character do things that don't make sense once, or twice (and to say them more would further complicate this review), but she still carries it and makes it so her own, and so heartfelt, that it elevates the material further.  She has one scene, even just a moment, an exchange, in a very other-worldly, high-suspense/drama bit, where she made an underlying ideal in the film clearer than before: in this cold world of killers and fate, what happens to humanity?  Can you do anything about how you were raised, if it was by vagrants or not, and what can change actually mean in the scope of shit?


Okay, getting deep?  Looper is very smart in its script, very wise in ways of just the simple but very appreciative things in good storytelling like a plant and pay-off - one in particular done early on that would appear to not even be a plant at all, but just a little detail to add texture and a little wonder to this futuristic world.  And I appreciated that the connotations of class were not jammed down the viewer's throat (i.e. In Time last year), but were given enough of a showing to let the audience know what this world is, and why you need a tough-but-not-impenetrable figure like Joe to navigate it.

And that brings me to Joe himself.  I'm still not sure if Joe entirely *looks* like young Bruce Willis, but Gordon-Levitt's fun and cunning is to make himself believe he's Willis, and so after the first several minutes I bought into it as well.  And Willis gives himself some room to breath as an actor too; he brings to Old Joe a wisdom and bitterness that gives the character dimension, and that his actions in the second half of the film, while brutal, super-violent and morally questionable, are never so simple as to make one hate the character.  It's just a terrible situation, but there's a gray area that makes Johnson's material further complex.  When he blows people away with big fucking guns, it's not the Land-of-Inconsequential as we saw several weeks ago with The Expendables 2.  When Old Joe gets on his mission, there's pain and resentment, even if what must be done is to be done.

And the moral of the story is - don't fuck with Emily Blunt and an axe.  That tree's gonna get it.

There's also the little kid... but that would be going too far, wouldn't it?  Looper, aside from what I've mentioned already, is ingenious with not just time travel, and what effects it has (or what happens when a man's memory is 'clouded' and he tries to remember the first time he saw a person very important, a series of cut-aways and edits that makes this character for me), is a fantastic story of the future itself.  We know it's the future due to things with technology like flying motorcycles (but no flying cars, damn!), and other little touches, but it's still the same poverty, the same dread for humanity, the same fear of death, and the same farming life that Blunt's character has to deal with.  A lot has changed in the world of Looper, but the big things still stay the same.

So... I'm from the future, go see Looper, in theaters if you can to soak up that cinematography and Nathan Johnson's mix of edgy rock and symphonic orchestra. 

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