LOOPER is one of the most inventive and absorbing films of the year. And it's a Science Fiction film. Yay!
The Science Fiction genre always seems to get slighted for one reason or another, the most common criticism of which is its fanciful and disconnected view from reality. The Oscars have not been kind either, relegating it to the technical achievement categories rather than desiring to place a ring on its finger. In reality, Science Fiction (which should not be confused with the action-heavy Sci-Fi genre) offers audiences the best of all worlds, due to its ability to weave drama, action, and comedy that is set on far-away planets. Star Wars brought us the best bad guy ever conceived in Darth Vader, pitting his oppressive Empire against a Rebellion determined to upend the Dark Sith. Even in the case of epics like Blade Runner, where the story is set in a futuristic Los Angeles, our Replicant robots demonstrated real human feelings of remorse, anger, and sadness as they battled Harrison Ford. It's the perfect genre that combines man's desires for knowledge with the biggest stage ever created. And while Looper sets its sights on the near future and time travel, it's also memorizing story about people and the choices they make that makes it one of the best of 2012.
The trailers for LOOPER suggest a story about time travel, but it's far deeper than that. Set in the year 2044, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Inception) is a Looper, a hired mob killer who disposes of bodies that are sent to him from the distant future. Because people are not allowed to dispose of bodies in the future, the mob has concocted a brilliant plan: send their victims to the past, where Loopers 'dispose' of them and receive handsome awards of silver bars. Part of a cadre of killers lead by the gang lord Abe (Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber), Joe lives the high life of drugs and sex in between his contract hits. Although Joe wants a normal life and looks forward to the day when he can escape the Loopers, his dysfunctional lifestyle takes him into the decidedly darker circle of prostitution: his fascination with the dancer Suzie (Piper Perabo,Covert Affairs) is never returned and only exists when he can pay for her services. Loopers operate under the generosity of the future mob: when their contracts are ended, their future selves are sent to the past to be murdered by themselves (a practice called 'closing the loop') that comes complete with enough gold bars to last them 30 years. After trying to harbor a fellow colleague who could not bring himself to close his own loop, Joe is sent his future self (Bruce Willis, Die Hard) to eliminate. Unable to finish the job after being knocked out, 2044 Joe must eliminate 2077 Joe before 2077 Joe can eliminate the person responsible for closing all the loops: a young boy who eventually turns out to be the biggest mob boss of the future.
If this story appears to be a little complex, you've only scratched the surface. Unfortunately, I won't reveal much more to the story, as there is a big reveal that would affect your experience of learning about it prior to seeing the film. There's not a lot of twist and turns, but those circumstances are simply better if you see them for yourself. But, I can relate that 2044 Joe does meet the farmer Sara (Emily Blunt, The Adjustment Bureau) who must constantly defend her property against vagrants who cannot survive in the now-destitute cities. Joe must protect Sara and her son from the vengeful 2077 Joe, who's convinced that the boy's death will somehow bring back his future wife and the perfect life he's created.
Looper is the kind of film that demands your attention from the opening scene and doesn't let you go until the surprising end. Its deep story about a dark and difficult post-economic collapse of a future (a popular trend in today's Science Fiction storytelling) is really a comment about people and the choices we've made, the choices lost to circumstance, and the sometimes extreme measures we're willing to take to right our own ship. Director and Writer Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom) weaves a tale that expertly mixes odd characters, great dialogue, and unique storytelling in some of the most inventive ways seen in recent memory: for example, the two Joes meet at their favorite diner (it's the place where 2044 Joe goes to eat after making a hit), only because 2044 etches the name of the waitress into his arm, which 2077 can read on his arm. When 2044 experiences pain, so does 2077. Yep, it's a weird time travel element to be sure, but it works so well in our story that its use seems not only acceptable but even an interesting plot element that furthers things. You'll hear the word 'dystopian' used to describe Looper but like Blade Runner or Starship Troopers, that's only half of the story. Johnson's command of his cast, his ability as a director, and his script-writing acumen are all on display but never get in the way of the actors doing their jobs. Willis has always been consistently good, but Johnson gets the big guy to show a part of himself that few roles have afforded him. One scene in particular will make you both hate 2077 Joe for what he's just done and pity him because he's so obsessed with retaining his timeline. Johnson also oversees the young Leviitt, who is quickly building an impressive body of work, by letting him roam just enough with his facial features, which become such an important component of the film. And while he dons a prosthetic to make him look like a younger Willis, it's his transformation from cold-blooded killer to anti-hero that will generate the most talk.
While supporting roles by Perabo and Daniels are equally good, one should not miss the role played by Blunt. A combination of tough woman and dedicated mother, Blunt even makes chopping wood look sexy - believe me until you see it. Her performance also seems to demonstrate significant growth as an actress by relating the weight that this difficult future has wrecked upon her life. In her tired chisled features which suddenly come aglow at the site of her son Cid (newcomer Pierce Gagnon), Blunt gives us the entirety of her life without ever speaking a word. In many ways, she is the glue which binds this story and keeps it from settling into a hunter-hunted plot with a transparent climax. Johnson's casting should represent the best of 2012, not because of its star power, but from the performances which he gets from each of his actors.
I had originally chosen the remake of Total Recall as my favorite Science Fiction film of 2012. One must now place the fabulous Looper at the top. Looper is not merely a good picture but a great film about regret, the world of violence that sometimes overtakes people, and our constant desire to make amends of the poor choices we've made throughout our lives. It breaks through the barrier of standard Science Fiction fare to introduce a fresh, elegant, and exciting take on a future that dares audiences to live in the present rather than planning for a future that they cannot fully control. I suspect we'll be talking about Looper for a long time - let's hope the Oscar nominating committee won't let this one slip away. Looper is rated R for violence, nudity, sex, and sexual situations and has a runtime of 118 minutes.
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