Nov. 8, 2012
‘Looper’ continues to captivate audiences
Gordon-Levitt shifts between characters amid blend of genres
By Kate Arndy
“Looper” is a raw, genre-bending film that adds a twist to action and time travel.
This film unfolds in the year 2044. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works for the mob as a
“looper,” a hired hit man. Time travel will be invented in the next 30 years, but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When mobsters want to kill someone off, they send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper” awaits him. It is just a normal day for Joe, until his next target turns out to be his future self, played by Bruce Willis.
Director Rian Johnson creates what could be a standard sci-fi film and turns it into something different by twisting the rules of the genre and blending it with other highly recognizable storytelling conventions. He gives us only a glimpse to this futuristic dystopia by casually displaying technological innovations, including flying motorcycles and hologram billboards, rather than making them the focus of attention. A mutation has occurred in 10 percent of the population giving them telekinetic powers, yet this is little more than a sidebar. As he has done with his other films, such as “Brick,” Johnson simply renders the oddities of this world as normative so the viewers can focus on the story and its well-drawn characters. The futuristic characters are also immediately recognizable. Joe is clearly a creature of 2044 but with a 1950s motif, including a rebel’s swagger, skinny ties and slick back hair. All this coexistence between the foreign and the familiar creates a strange and pleasant disorientation throughout the film.
In fact, pleasant disorientation is a key part of Johnson’s filmmaking. There is a wonderful scene where several “loopers” are out on the town and under the influence of eye dropper drugs. While driving home after clubbing, everything about the trip is recognizable yet visually distorted and slightly out of whack. When Present-Joe first encounters Future-Joe, we discover that they are one and the same person through a dizzying display of close-ups, medium close-ups and extreme close-ups that connect the dots of their identical physical characteristics.
Adding to the disorientation is the raw and industrial soundtrack used in the film. Composer Nathan Johnson, a cousin of the director, creates a virtual orchestra of ambient sounds by recording the whirl of industrial fans and pounding machinery, blending them together, and using the result to underscore the urban action.
Of course, none of these creative choices are effective if the acting choices are not similarly familiar, yet foreign. Gordon-Levitt morphs into Willis perfectly, without exaggeration or calling attention to the effort required. Willis plays his typical bada** self, but allows himself to be uncharacteristically vulnerable as a stranger in a strange world. Emily Blunt as a protective mother, Jeff Daniels as the mob boss and other recognizable character actors play roles just outside their comfort zone — and the audience’s — and play them remarkably well.
“Looper” challenges its audience by offering a refreshing rendition of sci-fi, a unique take on time travel and a stellar cast. It is a fun ride for those willing to take the disorienting journey.