As someone who watches films in an almost obsessive way, it has become increasingly difficult to be genuinely blown away by a film. Sometimes all the films I see simply blend together and there is no disconnecting factor between them. But every once in a while a film comes along that changes things. It not only delivers an experience that you will remember for the rest of your life, but it also connects with you in such a way that you are reminded of why you feel so passionately about films in the first place. Among the very few films that have accomplished that is Rian Johnson’s Brick, a modern film noir that for me is the exemplification of a timeless classic. Everything about that film is a work of art from the engrossing performances to the eerily majestic score to the imaginative yet realistic visuals. In my opinion, it would be difficult for any consequent film by Rian Johnson to outshine Brick but with Looper he has delivered the closest thing to a new classic.
The year is 2044. Time travel has not been invented yet but in the 30 years it will have been. This new technology will be deemed too dangerous and consequently will be only used by powerful crime organizations. In order to dispose of bodies, these organization zap individuals to 2042 where loopers instantly dispose of them. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the best loopers and with the job’s exuberant pay check, Jose spends his dropping (equivalent to shooting up) and partying. There is a catch however, loopers are on a temporary contract and once time is served their future selfs are zap back into the past and killed off, which is called closing your loop. The repercussions of not closing your loop are dire and when Joe’s future self, Old Joe (Bruce Willis), appears before him Joe makes the mistake of hesitating. Old Joe quickly disposes of young Joe and now they are both fugitives hunted down by Joe’s boss Abe (Jeff Bridges).
Ever since Brick I’ve been one to always get excited for any new film by Rian Johnson. Even though I was disappointed with the self-indulgent and convoluted The Brothers Bloom, the prospect of Johnson tackling science fiction was an intriguing one. Add to that the premise of the film alongside all the collaborators and you got one of my most anticipated films of the year. Looper is a special kind of science fiction film, one that utilizes the concept of time travel to deliver a story that feels original and well thought out. The film doesn’t dwell too much in the workings of time travel, instead it provides you with a general idea of how it works. This, I thought, was a smart move on Johnson as the film became more about the characters than mechanism of time travel. It is because of the characters that the film is so powerful and affecting. It doesn’t hurt that Johnson manages to extract brilliant performances from his cast.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns to Johnson’s cinematic universe to deliver what I believe to be his second strongest performance. This is a Gordon-Levitt unlike we’ve ever seen. First there is the absolutely brilliant make-up work that is so effective that a friend of mine was convinced this could not be the same guy from The Dark Knight Rises. What I love about his make-up is that while evident there is subtlety to it, a careful precision that makes his resemblance to Bruce Willis uncanny. Moreover, there is the very important fact that Gordon-Levitt wears the make-up beautifully and becomes this other entity. Even though Joe is our “hero” he is not a very likeable man. He is incredibly selfish and greedy, and it is really interesting to witness how all these terrible events he is subjected to gradually change him. Joseph Gordon-Levitt commands the screen from the very beginning and delivers a flawed yet empathetic protagonist that is compelling as the film itself.
Equally majestic, much to my surprise, is Bruce Willis. Willis has been playing very similar roles in the last few years so much so that most of forgot he can actually act. When it comes to action films Willis has a persona that while effectively enjoyable, is very familiar and standard. In Looper however, Willis fleshes out the character of Old Joe in such a profound and emotional manner that I could not believe. All those bad habits that young Joe possessed had taken a insurmountable toll on Old Joe and all that weight is clearly visible in Willis. He sells the character beautifully with such palpable compassion and vulnerability that we instantly identify with him. His Joe is the more likeable one, which is ironic since he is the one that is led to commit unimaginable horrors. But they are act of love by a desperate man and as such we remain on his side till the end. Looper proves that Bruce Willis, when tackling a strong material, can be the brilliant and badass action actor we all fell in love with since Die Hard.
The supporting cast consisting of Jeff Bridges, Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon are also excellent in their respective roles. Bridges brings forth the humour in the film and as the sort of father figure to Joe, his presence is welcoming and enjoyable. It’s too bad we don’t spend to much time with him, but the few scenes he has are outstanding. Receiving much more screen time are Blunt and Gagnon. These two play characters that I will not discuss much in this review. Dwelling too much on them would take away some of the mysterious aspects of the film, and the less you know about who they play the better. I will say that they both deliver great performances. Blunt hasn’t been this compelling and amazing since who knows when. Her character is one of the most vulnerable ones and it genuinely breaks your heart seeing her struggle. Her chemistry with Pierce is so tenderly beautiful that it will affect time and time again. Pierce Gagnon is somewhat of a revelation and manages to bring such a level of maturity that is rarely seen kid actors nowadays. His scenes are amongst the most frightening, emotional and entertaining ones.
Another returning collaborator is Rian Johnson’s brother Nathan Johnson handling Looper’s score. Nathan Johnson’s score for Brick is one of my favourite scores of all time and when I first heard of his involvement of Looper is jumped in utter excitement. To say that Looper has the best score of 2012 so far would be an understatement. Nathan’s score is a masterpiece in itself and the way it blends so perfectly with everything on screen is incredible. Looper is divided in three section: the first and last sections of the film are fast-paced-adrenaline-rushing intensity while the second or middle section showcases a slow and more contemplative pace. The score inhabits these various sections beautifully delivering exciting and pumped up tunes in the fast section, but then equally mesmerizing you with tonally seductive and intimate tracks in the middle section. As a character itself the score becomes an integral part of the overall effectiveness of Looper and I will be thoroughly surprised if it doesn’t win all the awards.
I have to admit that upon exiting the film I was not blown away by it. The reviews that called Looper this decade new The Matrix increased my expectations in such a way that could not be met. Those statements are false and people will do well to forget them, as they only hurt your overall enjoinment of the film. Even though Looper is not the new matrix, this film is without a doubt one of the most ambitious, grandiose and original science fiction films to come in years. Looper is one for the books and in time I’m confident it’s brilliance will become more and more apparent to everyone. As it is now, Looper succeeds in submerging us into a universe that will shock us, make us cry, cheer in excitement and still ponder about days later. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis deliver two amazing performances that accurately showcase why Gordon-Levitt is the new powerhouse actor and why Willis is to this day the most compelling action actor around. Director Rian Johnson has created a true work of art that delivers on all fronts and should be experienced by all.