Friday, September 28, 2012

LOOPER: A Compellingly Crafted Time Travel Thriller

Now playing at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:

LOOPER (Dir. Rian Johnson, 2012)

At first, it’s a bit jarring to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt made to look like Bruce Willis via prosthetic makeup. But Gordon-Levitt, has so got Willis’ mannerisms, and soft spoken voice down that the impression works, that is, until the real Willis shows up and it’s a little jarring again. However, it still works.

Set in Kansas City in 2044, Gordon-Levitt, as he tells us in his opening voice-over narration, is a low-level “Looper,” a hit-man who kills people that the mafia in 2074 sends back via illegal time travel technology. To close a looper’s contract, they send back the older version to be killed by their younger selves, and are paid off with gold bars. It’s a job that doesn’t attract “forward thinking people,” Gordon Levitt notes.

A frantic fellow looper (Paul Dano), when confronted with his older self, is unable to “close the loop,” as they call it, he goes into hiding in a floor safe in Gordon-Levitt’s apartment. A bearded wizened and jaded Jeff Daniels, as a gang boss from the future, offers a deal in which if Gordon-Levitt gives up Dano’s location, he can keep all the silver he’s been saving up. Gordon-Levitt takes the deal, but then finds out that his own loop is set to be closed.

Willis is able to escape from his younger self, upon appearing from the future, but not long after that they have a face-to-face at a diner, and Willis speaks of how, in 30 years, his wife (Qing Xu) will be murdered love by a powerful villain called “The Rainmaker.” Willis came back in time to kill the child who will grow up to be this bigwig baddie.

Did you get all that? Yes, it’s a movie in which the convolutions swirl around you, but you can’t help to get caught up in them. Even when the film downshifts from the expected, yet still engrossing action sequences (shoot-ups, chases, fight scenes, etc.), into a quieter second half that takes place on a farm owned by Emily Blunt, who just may be the mother of the future “Rainmaker,” its spell still holds you.

Willis doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, and doesn’t need much, but what he has, like when he talks of the woman whose life he’s trying save, he really sells. Considering his younger self to be a self absorbed junkie, Willis provides a gruff contrast to Gordon-Levitt’s stoic smoothness.

The rest of the well-chosen cast have their moments. Daniels basically has one major speech to give before spending the rest of the movie as an order barking heavy, but he pulls off both superbly.

Blunt, could be seen as a gratuitous love-interest for Gordon-Levitt, yet her frightened eyed delivery is “on,” and it’s fun to see her smoke an invisible cigarette (another thing to look forward to in the future).

A few of Daniels’ thugs are notable too - Noah Segan, as a clumsily trigger happy goon, and Garret Dillahunt as a much more professional assassin.

With its superb sci-fi premise, exemplary effects, and top-notch performances, Rian Johnson, who directed the brilliant BRICK (also starring Gordon-Levitt), and the not-bad THE BROTHERS BLOOM, has compellingly crafted a well above average action thriller. Its ending might feel a little off, but the fact that it doesn’t allow easily for a sequel makes it all the more refreshing.

More later...

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