With the release of the underwhelming The Brothers Bloom, it seemed like Rian Johnson might not have lived up to the promise of his debut, the audaciously brilliant teen-noir drama Brick. Since then Johnson has been laying low, apart from directing a few pretty good episodes of Breaking Bad. But with sci-fi spectacular Looper, he makes a confident leap into the major leagues.
The premise of Looper is complicated to explain, so much so that you can easily forgive the movie for relying on an explanatory voice-over that spells everything out nice and clearly. Set in 2044, the plot involves criminal gangs who’ve mastered time travel in the even more distant future, and send people back in time to be assassinated by hired guns, or “loopers.” Every once in a while, the assassins find out that they’ve just killed their own future selves, “closing the loop.” (You have to go out on a bit of a limb, but it does more or less make sense in the film).
Brick star and current hot property Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a looper whose existential angst is compounded when his future self (Bruce Willis) manages to escape assassination and start wreaking havoc in the present. Eventually, a single mother (Emily Blunt) and her troubled young son become involved (no spoilers).
English actress Blunt’s effort at a Midwestern farm-girl accent is occasionally a little odd, but she pulls off a strong performance while looking really good — and lest that seem sexist, may I also add that Gordon-Levitt has developed quite the handsome chiselled face and rugged yet sophisticated charm. He seems like one of those Hollywood stars with discriminating taste — let’s keep our fingers crossed that he’ll stay on the righteous path.
As for Willis, between this and Moonrise Kingdom he’s definitely on an upswing since the career nadir of Kevin Smith’s Cop Out. This film gives him the opportunity to do the action-hero thing he does so well, but from certain angles he really looks like the old guy he is (in a good way). Also, Jeff Daniels plays a futuristic mobster. Need I say more?
The pacing of the film is quite unusual. Slightly past the halfway point, it turns into an outright domestic drama for a good 15 or 20 minutes, only to explode into a Willis machine-gun massacre worthy of the Die Hard flicks, then jump back into conceptual sci-fi. Is this a deliberate mind game, an effort in next-level multi-gender marketing, or just the sign of an uneven hand?
Hard to say, but apart from this slight disconnect the film is an expert blend of high-concept mind-warping (the time-travel notions should have the geeks buzzing in a way unseen since Back to the Future), awesome effects and action scenes and actually engaging characters. Highly suspenseful, stylish without being show-offy and full of unpredictable twists, it’s a Hollywood action blockbuster done right. ■
Looper opens Sept. 28