Rian Johnson

Looper (2012)

There is a moment in Looper when crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), describes the business of looping – in which people are sent from the future to be killed by hitmen in the past – as simply there to ‘fry your fucking brain’. Being from the future himself, he should know what he’s talking about. Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is one of his employees, a Looper, who finds himself confronted by his next hit – himself from 30 years in the future, played by Bruce Willis. Before you can say boo to a goose, Willis is on run, stalked by Levitt, who knows that his failure to kill Willis – and close the loop – will mean an execution for him. Up front, we can imagine that there will be some people for whom Looper’s explanations of how characters from the future can still exist when they’ve drastically altered their past just by being in the same room as them, but then the Terminator never seems to particularly irk anyone despite it never even attempting to address it’s predestination paradox.

Director Rian Johnson’s Brick, reflected a truer state of teenage loneliness and cliques, with its mash up of noir sensibilities and high school stereotypes, than any other genre film before or after. With Looper, he treats the amazing as the mundane. We’re told that people with telekinetic powers exist, but rather than Professor X testaments to human evolution, the TKs – for that is the moniker they are provided with – are seen as everyday folk with a sub-par party trick. People are just accepting of everything. If it doesn’t affect you, why should you care? Even when Looper’s are told that, 30 years on, their contract will come to an end, it’s a moment of celebration. Yes, you will inevitably find yourself one day having to kill yourself, but what does it matter? You’re not the one that’s going to be killed, it’s that other you. The you you don’t have to think about. Gordon-Levitt’s Joe is a product of this wholesale apathy. Even when faced with Willis, he can’t muster up any form of sympathy for the life that could be, as the future is too busy messing up the life that is now.

This is very much a sci-fi piece of work – which gives more than a nod to Akira at some points – but it’s one with a touch of the western injected into it. This is particularly prevalent in the third act when Gordon-Levitt  becomes an unlikely hero. The buff metal and rust of his home city being replaced with the dust and fields of the country, where a man stands tall or he doesn’t stand at all. There is a definite change in pitch in the film when the scenery changes; becoming a different kind of beast to the one we were introduced to at the beginning. Johnson is confident in himself and his script, to keep things moving in a fashion that means it’s hard to guess what’s going to happen next.

What is interesting is this is a two hour plus action movie with very little action in it. Johnson teases us with signposts that suggest, ‘This way to the next set piece’, but the potential key moments will deliberately fizzle out or happen off screen. For example, Willis’s shootout with ten of Abe’s henchman is performed to the benefit of a static camera. We’re aware of the violence, we just don’t see it. In a fashion, it reminded us of it’s spiritual sibling, Inception; another intelligent blockbuster that plays for thoughts as well as excitement.

Is it perfect? No, not at all. The exposition-heavy beginning is a lot to take in, but in hindsight, we appreciate Johnson telling us what we need to know, so we can relax for the rest of the film and not have to rely on Johnny Exposition every five minutes. And yes, let’s be honest, Levitt’s Bruce mask is a little disconcerting at times; suffering greatly during scenes of harsh daylight. But we’ll allow it as Levitt makes up for this by basically being Bruce Willis. You can stick the same effects on Danny Dyer and he’s still going act like Danny Dyer. Levitt’s mannerisms, right down to the smile, are a part of an overall stellar performance. And Willis? Look, it’s Bruce Willis, there’s a reason why the Academy have never beaten down his door to give him an Oscar. However, he’s bold and confident, making a perfect world-weary foil to Levitt’s cynicism.

Like Inception, it’s good to see that people are trying to make intelligent blockbuster fodder that can appease the masses, but give you something to genuinely talk about outside of ‘Ooh, the building it did go bang’. Hopefully, once Found Footage and superhero movies have died their inevitable, this will be the next thing execs are grabbing for.