Monday, October 1, 2012

Looper, A Smart and Skilled Sci-Fi Saga

     Films about time travel always amaze or annoy: either you're sucked into the fascinating thought of traveling back to a different era or your mind gets stuck in the paradoxes and plot holes and you wish you could travel back in time to buy a ticket to another movie that made more sense. Looper easily falls into the first category, with its slick storytelling and unflinching violence. Director Rian Johnson's third feature (after the cool Brick and The Brother's Bloom [he also has directed two Breaking Bad episodes]) blends intriguing storytelling with tension-filled plot twists to create the best Science Fiction film since last year's Source Code.
     The year is 2044. The United States is recognizable but is in a realistic state of danger and dilapidation after an economic collapse. 10% of the population has a genetic mutation causing minor telekinesis (essentially boys floating small objects in their hands in order to impress pretty girls).  Flash forward 30 years to 2074: time travel has been discovered, but the powers that be deemed it far too dangerous to be legal--imagine the repercussions of citizens travelling back in time, causing a butterfly effect across decades. However, the mob--led by a new, brutal head boss with no remorse referred to as "The Rainmaker"--has decided that time travel is great way to dispose of bodies (The Mob loves capitalizing on illegal activity). In the year 2074, tracking devices make it far too hard to discreetly "off" the competition. So this major criminal enterprise, taking control of the time travel machine, send people back in time 30 years to 2044, where gunmen called "loopers" are waiting, blunderbuss in hand, ready to blow brain matter and chunks of flesh onto plastic sheets (easier for cleanup).
     Are you following? Picture this: a man (a looper) stands in the middle of a cornfield in 2044. He has his powerful gun in hand. Five feet away sits an empty plastic sheet, lightly blowing in the wind. He compulsively checks his ticking watch. Poof, a different man appears on the plastic (from 2074), tied up with a hood covering his head. Boom,  the man dies and blood squirts. Let's make things more complicated: when the crime boss (from 2074) wants to end a looper's contract, they send the looper's 30-year future self back in time to 2044, where his 30-year younger self is waiting, yet again, with a gun in his hand, ready to kill. This is called "closing the loop", and when this happens, the looper from 2044 collects a giant payday and is free to live out the next 30 years in whatever way he wants to. In this future world, many loopers end up addicted to an epensive psychedelic drug in the form of eye drops, living in addiction and squalor.
     The looper that Looper focuses on is named Joe. He's played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (popping up in many new releases nowadays), as a cocky, drug-addicted gunman who lives for the silver he gets in order to get his next fix, to get to the next party, to hook up with the next beautiful woman. But he doesn't quite look like himself. In preparation of filming Looper every day, Levitt had to sit in the make-up chair, donning realistic prosthetics and accentuating make-up to look a little more like...Bruce Willis. He even has mannerisms like Willis and sounds like Willis. You half expect him to utter, "Yippee Ki Yay, Motherfucker!", whenever he pulls the trigger.
     You can probably figure out why Levitt needs to resemble Willis. One day, on a normal looper mission, Joe waits with gun and ticking watch in hand. Poof, a man appears. Only this man has no hood, and 2044 Joe hesitates just for a second. It's 2077 Joe. Old Joe escapes, and the rest of Looper is like an intricate chess match, with each incarnation of Joe trying to foresee the other's next move. As one can imagine, it's not good for a looper to not eliminate his target, so Young Joe so is also on the run from his boss and his boss's cronies, trying to find his future self to put an end to the madness. But Old Joe has plans of his own, plans that need to be completed with his 30-year younger self in the way or not. Old Joe knows that "The Rainmaker", the previously-mentioned crime boss from 2077, lives in the area (30 years younger) and he sets out to kill him, consequently changing the events that caused Joe to go back in time in the first place.
     Phew, this time travel stuff is complicated. Luckily, Looper doesn't dwell too long on the technical aspects of the space/time continuum and doesn't bother with the question of whether effecting a butterfly's flight trajectory will cause a future nuclear explosion. Other good actors appear in important roles, namely Jeff Daniel's as Joe's sometimes-forgiving-sometimes-malicious boss and Emily Blunt as a secluded farm owner with pertinent secrets of her own. But the real star of this show is Rian Johnson, whose script is just smart enough and just fast-paced enough to not question the validity of the time travel scenario and whose direction is fervent and beautiful. Looper  makes plenty of sense if you go by the guidelines of the rules in which it creates. It's easiest to sit back and take Old Joe's advice when talking to Young Joe at a diner (I'm paraphrasing): "We're not gonna sit here all day and talk about time travel, we'd be here all day making diagrams with straws." Taking that sound advice, Looper--like shooting a blast from a blunderbuss barrel--is loud, violent, and incredibly exciting.     (A)

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