Friday, 28 September 2012

Movies - Looper review

Looper movie review Emily Blunt Joseph Gordon Levitt Bruce Willis


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

Dir: Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels
Running Time: 118 mins

If you're going into Looper wondering how it's going to solve the paradoxes inherited by any story involving time travel, check your expectations at the door. Writer/director Rian Johnson sets out his position when Bruce Willis tells his younger self not to worry about the specifics of it all, else it'll end in diagrams and fuzziness. The point is, it's there, it works, and not to worry your pretty little head with such minutiae as the 'why'.

I doubt anyone except the most pernickety sci-fi nerds will give a damn though, particularly as Looper isn't a story about time travel so much as a thriller which happens to use time travel as a narrative device. Though explanations aren't forthcoming, it's a device used with great wit and flair, with timelines intersecting and breaking apart with every fresh twist.
Looper's big questions revolve around determinism vs free will, and whether it would be possible to change the future if we were aware of the sequence of events set to make it happen. You'd be hard pressed to call it a philosophical film, but its drama is underpinned by neat spins on familiar genre questions. Such themes are generally left in the background, a secondary pleasure to unravelling the tightly woven plot. There's no time for pondering when Bruce Willis is busy blasting his way through a gangster's hideout with a pair of P90s, and the movie's emotional core is more concerned with developing the relationship between young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), single mother Sarah (Emily Blunt) and her gifted son than making a point.

That's not to say there aren't depths to be explored once the credits have rolled: the fate of Bruce Willis' older Joe feels more tragic and inevitable in retrospect. He travels back to the past to save someone he cares about in the future, yet by messing with the past, he's simultaneously setting his younger self on a different life trajectory which does not appear to involve that person at all. (Yes, the paradox is ignored, and yes, the movie is stronger for such streamlining). Having younger Joe's new memories inform the actions of older Joe is a nifty trick, allowing vital information to be conveyed even when the two versions of the character are miles apart. Johnson has a lot of fun with such possibilities, particularly in one grimly funny demonstration of the punishment meted out to those who fail to 'close their loops'.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to grow into an actor of considerable grace and nuance, subtly mimicking Willis' poise and demeanour (aided by a flawless prosthetic) but replacing his older self's acquired wisdom with the blind cockiness of a young man willfully ignoring the consequences of his choices. Having Gordon-Levitt's character be the more cynical is a nice tweak on the how relationships between young and old are often portrayed as the latter being rejuvenated by the former. Willis' Joe certainly doesn't want his youth back and considers younger Joe an impulsive idiot. The wistful ageing action star is a role the actor has comfortably slipped into in recent years, and while there's nothing drastically new for him to do here, he finds the character's heart in the small moments when forced to literally confront his past.

As usual, Emily Blunt threatens to blow them both out of the water when she turns up about halfway through, giving a perfectly calibrated performance as a young woman broken by bad decisions but doing her best to make up for them. Not only is her American accent flawless, but she's given the movie's biggest and most important arc, and hits every note with heartbreaking precision. The only distraction is her complexion, far too perfect for someone who has spent years labouring alone on an agricultural farm. Her eye-popping aptitude for filling out a pair of tight jeans, on the other hand, makes far more sense.

On the downside, the villains are a dull bunch, with Jeff Daniels hinting at layers beneath mob organiser Abe's calmly sociopathic surface but never given the chance to explore them. Thanks to the story's focus being fixed on Sarah and the two Joes, he and his men only serve as embodiments of the external danger which forced older Joe's journey back in time to begin with, whereafter they become largely irrelevant. Despite boasting of their accuracy with customised magnums, they also suffer a bad case of henchman syndrome, completely unable to hit a target over even the shortest distance. Plot threads concerned younger Joe's drug addiction and relationship with Piper Perabo's stripper (the subject of the plot's most preposterous coincidence) also fizzle out, while the existence of telekinesis doesn't sit comfortably in an otherwise grounded vision of the future, especially since its role in the plot turns out to be incidental at best.

Fortunately, the central yarn is so elegantly spun that the worst criticism to be levelled against such concerns is that they slightly overcomplicate matters. Johnson holds back the directorial theatrics, trusting the story's complexities - particularly flash-forwards through defunct or theoretical timelines - to be compelling without assistance, and it's a canny move. Though not perfect, the movie earns more than enough credit to cover its rough patches thanks to the boldness of its ideas, the terrific cast, and the most terrifying child this side of The Omen. After the messy and overly 'quirky' Brothers Bloom, it's a return to the genre-filmmaking-with-a-twist which gave Rian Johnson his breakout in Brick. With Looper seemingly destined big commercial success, the director looks to have set himself back on track for a bright future.
[ 8 ]



Dan O. said...

Everybody’s good, the writing is top-notch, and the direction kept me on the edge of my seat, but there was a human element that just didn’t come around full-circle for me. I really liked this movie, but I didn’t love it and that’s a bit disappointing considering all of the hype. Good review Xander.

Xander Markham said...

Thanks, Dan. Interesting you didn't connect with the emotional aspect of the story, I found the relationships (between the Joes, and Joe and Sarah) provided some of the movie's richest material, aided by fantastic performances from Gordon-Levitt, Willis and Blunt. The under-cooked secondary stuff was what slightly reduced the experience for me.