Review: Looper

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This movie could’ve gone flying off the rails any point. But with a fraction of the budget and twice the brains, Looper runs circles around the over-inflated Prometheus hands down.

This is writer/director Rian Johnson’s third feature, his first being the neo-noir Brick, one of my favorite indie movies of the last decade. Aside from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper contains a number of similarities to that film: startling dreamscape transitions, curiously discreet love scenes and quirky, stylized criminal underbellies are just a few.

(Note: I haven’t seen The Brothers Bloom yet, so I can’t compare that one.)

While Brick exists in a universe where SoCal teenagers talk like a 1930s crime novel, Looper’s genre-bending cultural mash-up comes in no small part from the story’s dystopian setting.

In 2044, America is in economic squalor. The yuan has replaced the dollar, poverty is rampant and the only lucrative industry seems to be crime. The Kansas of the movie has maybe slightly more homeless people than modern-day San Francisco.

The fun part is the odd mix of future, retro and ghetto: Beat up old cars slapped with solar panels. Flying motorcycles with engine problems. An updated blunderbuss for short-range executions along with a history-spanning variety of firearms (one large revolver referred to as a “gat.”) Not to mention the common occurrence of an utterly useless degree of telekinesis barely applicable as a corny bar trick. It’s the sort of awesome and eclectic sci-fi landscape I haven’t seen since Firefly. Okay, maybe Afro Samurai.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a fine, understated performance as Joe, a lowlife enjoying the high life in more ways than one. I was initially skeptical about the prosthetics to make him look like Bruce Willis, but it really is seamless.

Bruce Willis, although not exactly playing against type, exuded a surprising level of pathos as the older version of Joe from 2074. He’s breaking your heart one minute. The next he’s going full Bruce Willis and kicking ALL the ass.

There’s plenty of murky morality to go around. I found myself empathizing with both versions of the character at different moments. The audience’s loyalty is challenged when either young or old Joe makes a tough, nasty decision.

The movie itself makes some bold choices that I’m glad a major studio wasn’t around to micromanage. There was one sequence of unexpected time travel horror I don’t think I’ve ever seen committed to film before.

Looper isn’t flawless. I questioned a few character actions and the pacing seemed to dip here and there. Not every plot device plays smoothly. The time travel logic seems sound enough. Mostly. I’m trying not to think about it too hard.

Emily Blunt was decent but forgettable as a long-suffering single mother. She’s just one of those interchangeable actresses I can’t tell apart from 10 other’s just like her.

He may be a fine actor who held is own with Daniel Day-Lewis, but we can all predict Paul Dano’s role as soon as he appears onscreen.

Jeff Daniels was great. I particularly liked his character’s talk about fashion, culture and the future. But having seen Brick, I feel like more could’ve been done with him.

Noah Segan plays a good fool, but I wasn’t buying the accent.

Overall, this was the time travel film/thinking man’s action movie we were overdue for. In less capable hands, Looper could’ve gone the way of many brilliantly conceived, poorly executed, Hollywood sci-fi abortions (à la Surrogates). Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

I give a Full Price (or A-).