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Looper (***½)

Rian Johnson does sci-fi right, with this immensely satisfying and often brilliant flick…

One of the best movies to deal with time travel that I’ve seen in a long time, and perhaps ever, ‘Looper‘ is a real achievement of the highest level. A hybrid science fiction/action/film noir, filmmaker Rian Johnson has crafted his finest films to date. The writer/director has a clear vision for the time travel genre and he sees it through in a way that you just want to stand up and applaud. Every element of this flick works, even the plot points that initially seem to be a little less unique and at odds with the rest of the work until they come together beautifully in the end. Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves that he can be a badass in the lead role and Bruce Willis plays an action hero with more drive and believability than he has in a while, so Johnson has a pair of strong performances right at the start. Smart and original, ‘Looper’ opens on Friday and I urge you all to see it, regardless of if you’re a sci-fi fan or not. This is the rare movie that you wish was longer, since you just don’t want it to ever end.  Art like ‘Looper’ deserves nothing less, and I’d be remiss not to wax poetic on one of my 10 favorite films of the year to date.

The film takes place in a future all too recognizable. The year is 2072, and while time travel exists, it’s outlawed and only used by large criminal syndicates looking to literally get away with murder. They achieve this through the use of Loopers, contract killers who get the victims sent back into the past where they shoot them and dispose of the body, essentially wiping them from history. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is one of the younger Loopers and is living the good life, even if he seems deeply unsatisfied with his lot in life. The economy is in the toilet, but Loopers enjoy wealth, so all should be good…but there’s a downside. As his friend Seth (Paul Dano) learns, the mob keeps this system supposedly foolproof by “closing the loop” at some point. What that means is they send you your future self to kill, ensuring your death 30 years from that moment. You’re then retired, provided of course that you complete the job, something that Seth does not. When Joe sees his older self (played by Willis), he can’t do the job either, and that leads to all sorts of complications. To say any more about the plot would be a disservice to you all, but I can assure you that it’s thought provoking and intelligent. It can be a little complex, but it won’t ever lose you, so fear not on that front. Oh, and it’s action packed too, so it literally has everything. It’s a genre flick, but also so much more.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has officially become an actor capable of anchoring a movie this year. ‘Premium Rush’ may not have set the box office on fire, but combined with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ we’ve seen him go the action route for the first time in 2012, and he completes the cycle in a fantastic way here. Gordon-Levitt is ruthless yet compassionate, something JGL pulls off in a really strong way. Bruce Willis is playing a similar role, just replacing the youthful naivete that Gordon-Levitt puts into his performance with a world weariness. They compliment each other perfectly, especially in their scenes together. Willis may be in his comfort zone, but he still manages to impress. Paul Dano has a small role and brings a manic energy to it, while Emily Blunt shows up as a woman is involved with the plot in a way that I’d rather not say. Jeff Daniels is also on hand as a mob boss, with the rest of the cast rounded out by the likes of Garret Dillahunt, Piper Perabo, Noah Segan, and Qing Xu. Obviously, this is all about the duo of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, so it’s great to see them not disappoint in the least.

Rian Johnson has always been an ambitious filmmaker, and here both his writing and direction outdo themselves. There’s a distinct style on display, mixing in futuristic elements and an old school hard-boiled nature that meshes perfectly. His direction is incredibly competent, both with action scenes and unsurprisingly the quieter moments as well. The script he wrote for the flick is both his biggest and best yet. Everything he tries works here, managing to constantly keep you on your toes and wondering where the movie is going to go next. His concept of time travel is a very solid one, even if it’s not as hardcore as the one in ‘Primer’ (the filmmaker Shane Carruth actually served as an advisor here, so it’s certainly a bit more believable than usual). If he has a misstep, it’s that the pace slows down a little too much during the end of the second act/the beginning of the third act, but it’s not a big issue at all in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of its Oscar potential, I actually think that this could be a mixture that the Academy could gravitate to if things break the right way over the course of the awards season. I’d love to see them tap it for a Best Picture nomination, but I think that’s not likely to happen. Best Original Screenplay could very well happen though, not to mention some of the technical categories. Especially the makeup is nomination worthy, turning Joseph Gordon-Levitt into a close approximation of Bruce Willis (it also shows me that JGL is the perfect choice to one day play Bruce Springsteen in a biopic), an essential achievement. Even if it gets shut out, that takes nothing away from the achievement on display here.

‘Looper’ is one of my favorite films of the year, a rare beast that manages to stimulate you on all levels. When the movie opens this weekend, you all need to go see it. I just can’t recommend the flick enough. It’s really something special and Rian Johnson deserves a real rousing success. Go see this ingenious movie, since it’s unlike anything else in theaters right now. It’s nearly perfect and among the best things to come out in 2012, plain and simple!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

What do you think?

Film Lover

Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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