Sunday, September 09, 2012 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

LooperThe short take: avoid all reviews & close your eyes when the trailer is shown or Looper will be spoiled – just go see it. I got back from a screening of Looper a couple of hours ago and have been buzzing off it since. It is just the kind of film I am constantly bemoaning the lack of - a sci-fi film made for adults. It’s not trying to be everything to everyone it’s a solid in genre sci-fi film with a great cast.

The long version: increasingly I am more aware of how big budget films are becoming more and more defined by two halves. During the first half the filmmakers go about establishing the set up, often going great lengths to confuse & baffle us in an attempt to come across as innovative and suspend the inevitable predictability to come. Somewhere just before the half way mark the second part of the film goes about unwinding the first half and more often than not the second half cannot sustain the credibility as déjà vu and stretched plotlines weaken and drop any promise the first half held. Looper maintains that promise throughout.

I knew relatively little about Looper going in I had seen the early trailers and the posters and had a rough idea of what I though it was about – but there is more to it.

Looper Poster
Looper Poster
In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by transporting back Joe's future self.

The Establishing Shot: LOOPER UK TRAILER 2 - 28 September 2012

And I have to say I was in a bit of quandary; the rules of cinematic time travel are fairly well defined not leaving a whole lot to - explore on screen and, well, lately Bruce Willis hasn't exactly been shining, his role choices seem to be up & down - but on the upside Joseph Gordon-Levitt definitely seems to have a lot of pride in his work and is currently choosing roles that aren’t just throwaway efforts and definitely have some longevity to them.

Slowly over the last couple of months my anticipation for Looper grew, so much so that it was on my The Establishing Shot: HOT LIST I just haven’t had as much time to write about it as I would like to. By the time I sat down to see Looper I have to say that I was really quite excited about.

Well I absolutely loved Looper there is so much about it I enjoyed and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who liked it. UK Press screenings are notoriously brutal mostly filled with cynical world weary people or inversely the young with no outlet for their frustration looking for an opportunity to make a name for themselves by being the most cynical bastard in the room - but one can’t begrudge them as they have to sit through a lot of drek to find the gems.

During the first half of the film apart from the occasional chuckle, you could almost hear a pin drop as many were intently watching the screen, one hand on their razor edged knifes, in their overcoats, looking for the chinks in Looper’s armour ready to slash at it and slowly cut it down to size – but hey it didn’t happen and by the end of the film there were applause - something I have only seen once before in a general press screening.

There is so much to love about Looper:
The fantastical premise that is engagingly played out, high concept conceits can easily be deflated if not supported by the other elements that make a film – which they do in spades in Looper’s case. There are some aspects that may feel a little rehashed from other films (and comics), these could be written off as references to genre. I only mention this as some of them didn't work for me, felt oddly out of place and brought the inventiveness of the rest of the film down a little - but they may work for other viewers. One reference that did work for me and I loved, or at least I thought was intentional - was the powerful & hypnotic voice of one of the child actors in the film – he has the exact innocent hypnotic tone & beat match as Cub in the American Shogun Assassin edit of the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films.

Looper Joseph Gordon-Levitt Joe
Image: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Looper Joe
Earlier I mentioned that, a lot of films unravel in the second half - Looper doesn’t - it keeps you guessing where it’s going and raises the suspense. Instead of falling back on future technology to prop up the second half Rian Johnson goes the other way bending genres (making a certain over hyped found footage film look like the amateur production it is) and brings the humanity of the piece to the fore. Looper is a cracking in-genre sci-fi film that also touches on deeper issues like morality, self interest & humanity just enough to make you aware of it rather than smother you by laying it on too thick.

Image: Looper Bruce Willis as Older Joe with a gun
Of course a with any film of this nature if you look hard enough you’ll see holes but Rian Johnson minimises this with clever direction and editing - we are never allowed to linger on particular scenes or objects long enough for us to lose interest in the over riding sense of urgency - everything else becomes supporting.

It may be embodied in an action sci fi film but at its heart Looper is a look at two men, the same extreme two men facing each other at different stages of their life and everything about their viewpoints differing and adapting to outwit each other which brings me to:

The cast and performances. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels - if you need more, read on. As I say high concept can fail if not supported and a major part of Looper working for me is the cast not just the performances but the casting playing on audience perceptions.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt! Can this guy do wrong? Surely he must be destined to be one of his generation’s brightest lights? For the bulk of the first half of the film, it’s left to Gordon-Levitt to ensure that we buy into the world of Looper as a man of dubious morals with a circle of comrades with a particular set of skills that come to bear in this dystopian near future. Director Rian Johnson creates an interesting world to explore with its own rules and this extends to the people, social dynamics and relationships.

Looper Jeff Daniels as Abe and Noah Segan as Kid Blue
Image: Looper Jeff Daniels as Abe and Noah Segan as Kid Blue
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is made to look like a younger Bruce Willis and he plays the part with subtle nods to Willis’ screen persona rather than laying it on too thick - which almost anyone could have done in an attempt to mimic Willis. It’s these kinds of subtle touches and intelligence that lift Looper above similar genre films.

Looper Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe
Image: Looper Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe with a gun (GAT)
A secondary effect of Levitt’s new face is much like Nicole Kidman’s Virginia Woolf disguise for The Hours is that we are almost disconnected from his existing screen persona and this frees him to inhabit the character. It was a real marvel to see a younger man face to face with his older self and interact with each

Video: The Establishing Shot LOOPER - JOE'S FACE OFF IN A DINER CLIP

Looper Bruce Willis as Older Joe
Image: Looper Bruce Willis as Older Joe doing what he does best with a gun
The casting of Bruce Willis is sublime, tapping into the Willis zeitgeist as much as it plays against preconceptions - there are less of Willis’ grins, wise cracks and forced catch phrases that have become his staple - there is humour, but the tone out of the film is not engineered with humour to take you out of the action – I love these roles for Willis. No doubt he is a wildly entertaining performer, a performer capable of taking an audience on a journey with him on whatever journey he is going but these roles remind us the guy can act when he wants to.

Looper Emily Blunt as Sara
Image: Looper Emily Blunt as Sara (not Conner) with a gun
Also good to see both Emily Blunt and Piper Perabo in more serious fare, stretching their abilities.

Looper Piper Perabo as Suzie
Image: Looper Piper Perabo as Suzie (no gun)
The other thing I loved about Looper is - that as geek culture has risen to lofty heights and every aspect of a film’s detail is deconstructed and analysed for credibility and provenance, no where is this more evident than when filmmakers spend a fortune on getting effects and props right and then have to add value to their budget by taking us down the rabbit hole of their film world technology and giving way too much focus to the tech aspects of their story and we end up with “Look! Here is the inside of the ship, look at this UI, this is how it works, this button does this and is connected to that and that’s why this film is good because this could technically be done.” – bleeding into the film taking up space and time that should be about developing a story, no I’m not singling out Prometheus at all here.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) Seth (Paul Dano) Car
Image: Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Seth (Paul Dano) cruising in Joe's Miata its a classic in the future.
Yes we are interested in that but this interest comes from a time when, unless you read Starlog or Fangoria (Google them) you wouldn’t ever know how certain things in FAVOURED films were created - and this was only usually revealed months after the film had been released. Filmmakers seem to have put the cart ahead of the horse and these days - every film has pre marketing showing you how the clothes were designed, the cars/vehicles made, the futurist technology works, etc etc. So before we even see the film we pretty much know most of the component parts of the tale to unfold.

In Looper the future tech is shown to work credibly and fits into Johnson’s future well, as an audience that is enough for us to know. If you are interested - go find out more about it.

Looper Joseph Gordon-Levitt faces his older self Bruce Willis
Image: Looper Joseph Gordon-Levitt faces his older self Bruce Willis (the gun's in his other hand)
That combine that with the credible dark near future world that Rian Johnson creates, from the production design, the clothes, the urban cityscapes, country locations, vehicles and gadgets is all different but feels familiar as the in-style of the film is a mash up of time periods (past & future) again this is done in a restrained way so as to keep it fresh and unpredictable. Johnson’s future world has enough personality and foibles so that we can relate to it as an extension as one of our possible futures whilst feeling like a strange place.

All of this comes together to make Looper a great ride and one of the better sci-fi /futurist films on offer. Avoid the trailers and media just go see it.

Looper is in cinemas 28 September 
In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by transporting back Joe's future self.

Director:Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano