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A Bruce Willis-esque Joseph Gordon-Levitt stands in a cornfield in Kansas 30 years in our future, waiting.
His next kill is going to land in this spot, sent 30 years back in time to 2044 by the mob to be disposed of. After all, what place is better to hide a body than in the past?
“Looper,” Director Rian Johnson’s latest film, follows Joe the looper, a hit man hired by the mafia of 2074 to kill their targets. Loopers wait for their hits at a predetermined location. When the hit appears, it takes just one shot from a blunderbuss gun, and their life is over. Eventually, the looper’s future self is sent back so he can “close the loop,” effectively killing himself. When it comes time for Joe to close his own loop, things get complicated. Old Joe manages to escape, and Joe is forced into a mad chase to close his loop while the mob hunts both versions of himself.
“Looper” is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Johnson’s storytelling gives you just enough information to understand the plot without fully understanding the world around it. The acting by the lead actors, supporting actors and even the extras is better than most action and science fiction films. The special effects, though minimal, are seamless and virtually unnoticeable. There are even a few clever one-liner jokes sprinkled within the dialogue.
Although the film doesn’t look into the actual mechanics of time travel, it is evident that Johnson planned out the possibilities involved, especially the effects of the past on the future.
“If something happens to the younger self, it changes immediately in the older self,” Johnson said in a conference call with the CU Independent.
For designing the structure of time travel, Johnson had one inspiration: “Terminator.”
“In ‘Terminator,’ you don’t have to deal with the time travel itself, just the situation,” he said.
Even though the details of time travel aren’t laid out, the acting will make you forget that you don’t understand everything about the world in 2044. Willis is a badass, as always. He kicks down doors, fights groups of mobsters single-handedly, plows down the enemy with semi-automatics and punches his younger self in the face within 30 seconds of being onscreen. You know, just a typical day in the life of Bruce Willis.
“[Casting Willis] was less that he is an older Joseph Gordon-Levitt but more that he is a good actor,” Johnson said. “Then, because they don’t look alike, Joe picked up the mannerisms of Bruce.”
Gordon-Levitt not only spent three hours every day in the make-up chair morphing into a young Willis, he picked up all of Willis’ characteristics: the scowl, the crinkled brow, the vaguely urban accent, the swagger in his step. Gordon-Levitt is so good at being Willis, you might think time travel was invented just to bring a younger Willis in for the part.
Emily Blunt does an excellent job as Sara, a single mother raising her son on a farm in rural Kansas. She rarely smiles, because she has little reason to do so. Instead, we see Sara’s worry for the safety of her son and herself etched in her face, and it increases as the film progresses.
But the actor who steals the show is Pierce Gagnon, who plays Sara’s young son, Cid. He’s hyper-intelligent, engaging and extremely perceptive of the misfortunes going on around him. His perpetual pout, there whether he’s angry or sad, and double dimples are enough to make you want to pinch his chubby little cheeks right off.
Johnson’s dialogue tells most of the story. The characters manage to explain the important details of life in the future without being overwhelmingly explanatory. There are gaps that are left for the viewer to fill in on their own, but these conclusions are easily drawn if you pay attention. The mix of snarky, dry one-liners add color to a very dark world.
Johnson is a minimalist when it comes to special effects, so there are very few used throughout the movie. But Johnson best uses effects during a montage of one of Joe’s drug trips, which feels like a real trip caught on tape, as well as a sonic wave blasting across the sugarcane fields of Kansas. The time travel sequences are very crisp and contain clean cuts as well.
“Looper” has a hard R-rating, for good reason. If you can’t stomach seeing a multitude of dead bodies, naked women or violence, you probably should see something else. However, if those are your bread and butter for movies, get to a movie theater, because “Looper” is worthy of being watched on the big screen.