“Looper”… Past forward

It’s probably too soon to rejoice that a golden age of action-cum-sci-fi filmmaking is upon us, but there at least glimmers of a trend, thanks to recent releases like Inception, The Book of Eli, In Time, The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, and, now, Rian Johnson’s Looper. After a period where science fiction was merely a backdrop on which to paint increasingly complex visual effects – nothing wrong with that, certainly, but just how many movies could we watch where there was nothing but these visuals? – it’s a relief to witness films that cleave to the median between suspense-fuelled thrills and the what-if wistfulness of science fiction. Few audiences had the stomach for a pure, glacially paced science fiction feature like Duncan Jones’s excellent Moon, whose truck was with ideas and not action, but a larger audience warmed up to his next film, Source Code, which made us feel smart even as our visceral responses were being manipulated in the more conventional ways of commercial filmmaking.

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Looper, too, is built on tried-and-tested tropes. You could say that it’s the film Terrence Malick might have made from a Stephen King-meets-The Terminator scenario – a going-back-in-time plot revolving around an apple-cheeked child with fearsome telekinetic powers, and set amidst a cane field so thick and so silent that it looks like God’s own burned-out backyard. The references to James Cameron’s great sci-fi thriller are inescapable. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a “looper,” an assassin who disposes of people sent to him from the future by the mob. Imagine his surprise when he’s awaiting his next target, shotgun cocked, and ends up staring at an older version of himself (Bruce Willis). Older Joe, like Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Cameron film, is on a chilling mission, though one leavened with more rueful emotion. Even the name of the frazzled cigarette-smoking single mother (played by Emily Blunt, channeling Linda Hamilton’s predilection for heavy weaponry, like axes and rock salt-filled guns) is the same: Sarah.

The story takes a while to get going, looking to be, at first, more Moon than Source Code. The director isn’t after flashy effects. His future-world is one of graffiti-splattered buildings and overflowing trash cans, and even his time machine is devoid of dazzle. But once we see who’s doing what to whom and why, we realise that the film isn’t as deep as it appeared. Looper, finally, morphs into a tense thriller, punctuated by terrific action scenes (including an Alien-like chest explosion) and a exquisitely wordless flashback involving Willis. The actor is in top form, and the authority with he calls his younger self a mere boy is a testament to the kind of wearily masculine hero that the laddish-looking Gordon-Levitt can only hope to become in his most fervent dreams. Worse, Gordon-Levitt is burdened with the film’s sole miscalculation. In an attempt to embody a more youthful version of Willis, he slaps on a smirk and a pair of thick eyebrows. He ends up resembling a more youthful version of Joan Crawford. Now that’s real science fiction.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2012 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

9 thoughts on ““Looper”… Past forward

  1. B, if you haven’t seen it yet, check out Rian Johnson’s first movie with Gordon-Levitt. It’s called Brick, a who-dunnit set in a high school where everyone mouths tough, hard-boiled film noir dialogue. A Raymond Chandler-like mystery, if Phillip Marlowe and all his suspect were adolescents. Really good!


  2. I think you are giving away quite a substantial spoiler here for those who haven’t watched the movie – by putting something upfront that happens in the last 20 mins of film. You may consider editing it out.


  3. Havent seen many of these films in this born again sci-fi actioner genre you are talkung about, but dont forget Minority report. It would be the benchmark. If these flicks are half as good as that, we’ll have something in our hands


  4. I am going to watch Looper – haven’t read the review yet. KayKay , Brick had a great texture – loved it.
    I saw Argo yesterday, Im not sure what to think of it. It was a tad underwhelming, though a solid movie by all accounts.


  5. KayKay: No, haven’t seen “Brick.” Will do so soon.

    Celluloid Diary: Which spoiler? I thought I took care not to mention “Rainmaker” and things like that.


  6. The director has a unique visual style. Cue: Breaking Bad episodes ‘Fly’ from Season 3 and ‘Fifty-two’ from this year.

    One of the things I loved about Looper is the silences. Nothing like a big screen blockbuster with lots of silence. It is real (not cinematic). It is arresting. And, it totally transports you into the world of the picture. Makes me want to fondly recall Prometheus and Steven Soderbergh’s experimental action film Haywire from earlier this year. The early portions of Mani Ratnam’s Bombay also had a rich atmosphere largely devoid of a background score.

    And, they should start cutting the Trailers in the same pace as the movie. Rarely does any movie’s pacing live up to the frenetic pace of its trailer.


  7. Gordon-Levitt doesn’t want to become Willis…not even in his ‘fervent dreams’.
    Just look at the career graph of the young actor. . He is turning director next year. Not even a word of praise for him . And Willis is repeating himself ever since. I cant find any difference performance-wise or in appearance between 12 Monkeys and this film….


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