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Looper (2012)

October 5, 2012

VERDICT:
9/10 Time Killers

About as awesome as time travel gets.

Looper is about a hitman living in the not-too-distant future of 2044. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be, which is exactly what makes our hitman so special, see. Instead of whacking people in the present like us primitive apes do now, his targets have been sent back in time on a silver platter. He bumps ’em off, takes care of the body, gets paid real nice by his employer (who’s also been sent back in time), and keeps the cycle going as such. Pretty easy gig, actually. Then one day, while getting ready for his next mark, he gets a surprise delivery in the form of his future self. Unfortunately, he’s still got a job to do, even if it is his future self. But since his future self is a lot craftier than he expected, he winds up botching the job and lets his future self get away. So with his employers out for blood and his future on the line, our hitman has to hunt his old ass down before both of ’em wind up dead or worse.

If I were to compile a list of film makers who should be working way more than they are, writer/director Rian Johnson would be right up there in the top three. It’s been a good six years since I saw his debut feature Brick, and ever since that glorious day I’ve been wondering what the hell happened? It was a one-of-a-kind movie, the likes of which should put a director on the map and open up doors for bigger and better things. Instead, it allowed him to make The Brothers Bloom three years later (haven’t seen it, heard mixed things) and direct a few episodes of Breaking Bad and Terriers (albeit some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad and Terriers). For the past six years, that’s what Rian Johnson’s been up to, and for a guy who should be a household name by now, that’s borderline unacceptable.

But now we have Looper, and this time, folks should take notice.

The first thing that’s great about Looper is the way it handles its two genres: one that’s a crap shoot, and one that’s getting old. By and large, when a movie’s dealing with time travel, it usually knows what it’s doing. Paying customers notice loopholes. It’s only when you write yourself into a corner and wind up with two bizarre seasons of LOST that things tend to get wonky. But the thing about time travel as a plot device is that it doesn’t get used all that often, and when it’s used successfully, it’s because it does more than just tie up loose ends. You still need a good story. Which is what brings us to the seemingly-unrelated hitman genre – a genre that we love; a genre that will never die; a genre that has been tackled from every angle imaginable only to be tackled again for good measure.

Separately, they put asses in seats and have given us some mighty fine stories along the way. But together? Now that’s something new. And in a world where ingenuity takes a backseat to profits, something new is a golden ticket.

In terms of how Looper utilizes time travel, it’s somewhere between how Back to the Future and 12 Monkeys used it. Identity crises, fixing the future by changing the past/present – you get the picture. And for the length of the first Act, that’s about the way things go. And trust me, that is not a bad thing. The first Act of this movie might be the best first Act of any movie I’ve seen all year.

At any rate, going off the trailer and the little that I’d known going in, I thought I had a decent idea of how this was all gonna play out. JGL goes after BW, BW gets JGL on his side, then the two of ’em turn the tables on their employers. Something like that. But lo and behold, that’s not how it goes at all. Much like the way Johnson reinvents the two genres he’s working with, he takes us down a road we never saw coming.

It’s interesting because I’ve actually been talking a lot about time travel movies as of late (tune into Best Movie Ever next week for more on that story), along with the different ways time travel’s been used effectively over the years. With that being said, there aren’t a whole lot of movies that swan dive into the complexities of time travel in such a gritty, violent fashion as this does. I guess The Terminator movies count, but those are more like a shallow dive, really. And not only does Looper take a totally inspired approach as far as its premise is concerned, but it’s the way Johnson structures it all that makes it so damn absorbing.

I dig the way he drives the plot by taking steps first, giving us a minute to catch up, and eventually confirming our suspicions through a bare minimum of exposition. What can I say, big fan of film makers who let the audience use their brain. And the system works because it keeps us up to speed without getting ahead of itself or confusing people to the point of aneurysms. Let me tell ya’, there are some flat-out ingenious ways that he uses time travel to his advantage in the first Act, but then Act Two comes around, and it only gets better. Like I said, it marks a total shift in the story we’re hearing and the pace at which it’s being told. Although as the wheels start turning and this crazy new world starts falling into place, that’s when it grabs ya’, and that’s when it gets great.

Speaking of crazy new worlds, this here is some vision of the near-future. The rich are richer and living it up, the poor are poorer and clogging up the streets. Drugs come in eyedrops, telekinesis comes over-the-counter, and for the right amount of silver, you can buy your own hoverbike that’ll probably just crap out on you. Yeah, we’re not that far into the future. 2044 is a very fitting time frame for this ’cause it’s a future that feels like it’s just out of reach. From both a visual and technological standpoint, it’s a prototype of bigger things, and it’s a believable one at that. Nor is there much emphasis on special effects, which also does wonders to keep things grounded.

And I love the way Johnson keeps things simple in that regard. The way targets pop up with no mess, no fuss? The stripped-down shotguns (aka: “blunderbusses”) that the hitmen make their living with? The fact that two-thirds of the movie takes place outside the futuristic city? That stuff is just great, especially when you consider that a lot of directors would take this as a golden opportunity to go ape on the CG. The guy’s got style, he makes it look gorgeous, and truth be told, CG would just cheapen it.

After all, he could have just gone all Benjamin Button on JGL and saved him three hours of makeup each morning. So glad he nixed that creepy-ass idea. Still, it takes a minute to get used to all the “young Bruce Willis” prosthetics they slapped on the guy, and the more I look at him in the photos here, the more he looks like a freak show. But not surprisingly, JGL is still great as always, it’s about the slickest role he’s ever had, and he carries himself in such a way that he actually makes the makeup work. He’s not so much doing a Bruce Willis impression as he is channeling Willis’ mannerisms. Once you get the smolder down, I guess everything else kinda falls into place.

And say what you will about The Expendables 2, plus all the other crap that IMDB says he was in this year, but I think 2012’s been a good one for Bruce Willis. As if is his fantastic and atypical turn in Moonrise Kingdom weren’t enough, he up and kills it in this, effortlessly renewing his Badass Card in the process. It always helps when he’s got good dialogue to work with – dialogue that gets oh-so close to nailing that 1970s-noir vibe it’s going for – but this is just further proof of what BW is capable of when he’s not surfing harrier jets.

Then there’s Jeff Daniels who’s a trip as JGL’s employer; Emily Blunt who rocks it, even though she could have cut back on all the F-bombs; and young newcomer Pierce Gagnon gives the big guys a run for their money. Sensing there might be some debate as to whether Gagnon is either ridiculously good or unintentionally hilarious, but I’m siding firmly with the former on this one. Solid cast all around, though, with some awfully solid characters to boot.

If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s the semi-bullshit observation that, as smart as Looper may be, there’s not much happening below the surface. It’s not using time travel as a metaphor for any kind of deep profundity (hook me up with a gold star for using that word in a sentence), so don’t expect to walk away with more than the satisfaction of having enjoyed yourself for two hours. But for those of us who are more than content with not learning a life lesson each time we hit the theater, Looper is not to be missed and a thoroughly enjoyable two hours at that. An absolute blast, royally well-executed on every darn front, and if someone ever told me it was the best time travel movie out there, I wouldn’t slap them in the face.

Not saying I agree, but this one’s keeper.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. Livi permalink
    October 5, 2012 12:12 am

    Wow, I have not been this excited to see a film since..well, it’s been a while since I have read so many solid reviews of a sci-fi action flick with a breakout star like JGL. You’ve just increased my eagerness to see it, so thank you!

    • October 5, 2012 8:00 am

      Haha. Believe the hype! Let me know what you think when you see it, gotta keep this Looper love going strong!

  2. October 5, 2012 5:05 am

    I didn’t think I’d be going into a cinema again until Skyfall (and after that, who the hell knows?) But you may just have persuaded me along to Looper, Aiden.
    I thought Brick was pretty damn good too. And Mr Joshua did a fine job in TDKR, so it’s getting harder and harder to say no.

    • October 5, 2012 8:02 am

      It’s funny, I wasn’t expecting to be doing much moviegoing either, but holy crap, was I glad I cleared my schedule for this. Give it a go, man. Would love to hear what you think.

      And JGL is going to rule the world one day. You heard it here first.

      • October 6, 2012 5:09 am

        Good movie!
        Question, though: has Bruce Willis got some sort of damn monopoly on meeting-your-younger-self movies? I mean, The Kid, Twelve Monkeys, and now this.
        And JGL was so spot on as the younger incarnation of Bruce it was creepy.
        Looper had my attention from the beginning. A plausible near future of 2044, and wisely not much said about the further future. And a finale that made sense without being broad daylight obvious from about twenty minutes in.
        Thanks again for the nod, Aiden. I really enjoyed it.
        (PS: Have you seen the Honest Movie Trailer for Prometheus?)

      • October 8, 2012 11:27 am

        First off, holy crap was that Honest Trailer funny. What a ridiculous movie. Those credits at the end had me howling, man.

        Anyway, glad you liked Looper!
        And I hear ya’ on Bruce Willis. Very strange that they got the dude from 12 Monkeys to sign up for this, too. Totally forgot about The Kid.
        And JGL was spot-on, right?
        Hell of a movie all around, those two hours were over in a jif.

        Thanks for reporting back, man. Would never lead you astray!

  3. October 5, 2012 7:16 am

    Great review. One of the best I have read.

    • October 5, 2012 8:02 am

      Damn! Thanks a lot, man. Have you seen it yet?

    • October 5, 2012 8:03 am

      Whoops! Nevermind, apparently it’s the last movie you reviewed. Will read up in a hot second.

  4. Becky permalink
    October 5, 2012 8:41 am

    It’s definitely a good one.

  5. October 7, 2012 11:37 pm

    Yeah, this is definitely one of the best reviews I’ve ever read. It’s inspired me to see the movie for myself, and more from the genre.

    • October 8, 2012 11:08 am

      Well I’ll be. Thanks, man! Appreciate that. Hope you dig it as much as I did and would love to hear what you think once you do. Would love to throw some time travel recommendations your way if you’re game, too.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Wes B. permalink
        October 9, 2012 11:34 am

        I’d love to hear some of your recommendations, man!

      • October 9, 2012 12:57 pm

        Sweet! Alright, here it goes:

        1) Time Bandits (on Netflix Instant) – really fun, really funny stuff by Terry Gilliam; pretty uncomplicated as far as time travel is concerned
        2) Primer – super complicated and very dialogue/ideas-heavy, but might be one of the only movie that actually attempts to tackle time travel head-on
        3) Timecrimes – also complicated, but far less of a headache to keep up with and a total blast to unravel

        Start with those three and let me know what you think!

  6. October 8, 2012 2:50 pm

    I have to totally disagree with your review (again). Looper was so, so boring. The best time travel movie is “Back to the Future”. Nothing will ever top it. At least I got to see Emily. I love Emily. D

    • October 8, 2012 2:55 pm

      Well I’m not gonna be the guy to take issue with Back to the Future, but I’m in borderline disbelief about that reaction to Looper! I don’t know if we’re gonna see eye-to-eye on this one whatsoever as I was glued to the screen from start to finish. But hey, at least we’ll always have Emily.

  7. October 13, 2012 9:23 pm

    This may just be my favorite film of the year. It absolutely floored me.

    • October 15, 2012 11:39 am

      And what a fine #1 it is. Definitely sitting pretty in my Top Ten right now. Not to downplay how good this is, but it’s been a pretty lackluster year so far, huh?

  8. Sam permalink
    October 20, 2012 3:21 pm

    This movie was hardly decent in my opinion, and im sure you will shun or disregard what im saying.

    Just keep one thing in mind. If the reviews and hype of this film were non existent, do you think you would have enjoyed it as much?

    Almost as astonishing as the overly rated avengers film, which at points was borderline b-grade.

    Yet hardly anyone seems to notice.

    The Matrix is an example of an amazing science fiction classic. I couldnt even watch Looper until the end.

    But again, that is my opinion.

    P.S Brick was a fantastic film,

    • October 28, 2012 12:25 pm

      Good gravy, dude! Do my reviews really sound that intimidating? I promise I won’t shun you or burn your comment with fire for not liking Looper of all things. It’s all good, man.

      Still, I gotta disagree with paragraph #2. While positive hype and reviews are always helpful in deciding how to spend your money in the theater, it never matters with how you ultimately feel about a movie. Just look at The Master: shit-ton of hype and critical acclaim, I gave it a fair shake, but just didn’t do it for me at the end of the day. Hype can kill a movie just as much as it can make a movie. Exactly why I try not to watch trailers anymore.

      Did think The Avengers was awesome though.

      Think it’s more an issue of different strokes being for different folks than you not being the only one on crazy pills.

      Completely agree with you on The Matrix, I worshiped that movie once upon a time. Hard to compare any movie to the peak example of its genre, but as much as I thoroughly dug Looper, yes, it is no Matrix.

      Your opinion is a fine one, Sam. Please feel free to share it openly from this day forward. This is a safe space.

      And Brick WAS a fantastic film. Spread the word, homey.

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