Imagination and daring are two things rarely associated with mainstream Hollywood releases. Many movies may start with interesting ideas, but after studios get their hands on them, break down the scripts into their most basic – and saleable – parts and screen test the film into oblivion, the original idea from the beginning is almost unrecognizable.
That's a part of the reason why "Looper" feels so fresh and fascinating. This isn't to say that the movie is good by exception or that it's only good because everything else is so bad. Writer/director Rian Johnson's wildly inventive time travel noir is great on its own merits; the fact that it represents a middle finger to the blandly predictable movies audiences have grown accustomed to is only a bonus.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a "looper" for the mob in the future. A looper works as a low-level assassin; mob bosses from the future send people they want dead back in time to Joe, who kills them and disposes of the body. Besides the dirty profession, life is good for Joe; he's paid well for his services and has friends both at his level (like "Ruby Sparks"'s Paul Dano) and above, including the loopers' leader, Abe, played with a laid-back menace by "The Newsroom"'s Jeff Daniels.
That is, until the future sends back Joe's future self, played by Bruce Willis, for elimination. Joe accidentally lets Future Joe escape, causing a massive manhunt as the rest of the looper crew – as well as specialized killers called gat men – tracks down Joe, who's chasing after his older self in the hopes of saving himself.
I hope you got all of that because that's only half of the story. Breaking down the labyrinth of timelines and plotlines in "Looper" into a few scant paragraphs is simply not something the human mind is capable of doing.
Yet even with its crazy, mind-bending story (Emily Blunt also plays a role far more important than the previews and ads would make it seem), "Looper" never becomes impenetrable as many time travel films can. Johnson's written a puzzle indeed, but one that can be enjoyed on a single viewing and enhanced with others.
It's not just the intricate story that's worth coming back for. Johnson's dystopian future (is there really any other kind?) is intriguingly thought-out. The intricacies of the future mob and its dealings are fascinating to watch unfold, and the universe the mobsters and loopers play around in – a noir-tinged vision of bad guys, bad women, drugs and dark alleys infested with poor – is thrilling.
His dialogue is just as whip-smart. A conversation between Joe and Old Joe at a country diner, for instance, simply crackles. Johnson has to pour out a lot of exposition and details about his time travel future and the people in inhabit it, so the fact that "Looper" never feels like an info dump (a problem even "Inception" found itself with) is a tribute to the writing, which manages to make the much-maligned use of voiceover interesting.
Johnson made his memorable debut with 2005's "Brick," the modern high school mystery that talked like a hardboiled detective noir. If that film's hyper-stylized dialogue was Johnson's bold, if flawed, introduction to audiences, "Looper" represents his hard-edged creativity finessed. A few times, admittedly, the drama gets a bit overheated, especially whenever Joe's bumbling gat man rival gets involved, but this is a small price to pay.
For those looking for intense action, "Looper" provides that as well. Johnson is still developing as an action director; for instance, he indulges himself on a few lens glares, though nowhere near a J.J. Abrams level. However, his setpiece moments are still intense and pulse-pounding. And as hoity-toity as this sounds, his camera movements are refreshing to watch, relying more on pans and tilts than the usual shaky cam-crazy edits combo directors have beaten audiences into accepting.
I know this review has pretty much been 663 words of verbal drool. I can admit "Looper" has some flaws, especially midway through the film when the story changes tone and slows down its electric pace. Never mind that; it picks back up easily (with one of the movie's best sequences for that matter). So pardon my enthusiasm; movies as invigorating as this just don't come around enough.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 24, 2015
At first glance, Ellington Ratliff may seem like the odd man in the pop rock band R5. He's the only one who's not a member of the Lynch family. He's the only one with a first name that doesn't begin with R (Riker, Rocky, Ross and Rydel make up the rest), and he's the only bandmate not born and raised in Colorado. Instead, Ratliff was born out in Los Angeles and split time in Wisconsin, making the band's Riverside gig Friday night a return of sorts.
Published July 23, 2015
If the last two days have proven anything, it's that Milwaukee will freaking lose their mind over the mere idea of a lion. At least, local movie fans Stephen Milek and Christopher Kai House certainly hope that is the case, as the two film buffs attempt to bring the notoriously insane 1981 thriller/borderline snuff film "Roar" to town.
Published July 22, 2015
Bookended by AJ Bombers and Water Street Brewery, Water Street is famous for three Bs: bars, burgers and bros. The tightly packed combination of those things has made the area a popular nighttime hot spot. Yet amongst all of the bars and clubs is something unexpected: A. Werner Silversmith, a buried treasure - quite literally considering its glass cases and shelves containing shimmering, beautifully repaired silver pieces - hiding in plain sight.
Published July 20, 2015
Brooklyn-based indie band Lazyeyes guitarist and singer Jason Abrishami has never been to Milwaukee - let alone any part of the Midwest really. He admits he hasn't even heard that much about the Cream City, but he'll learn about the city firsthand Wednesday night when the band and its shoegaze-laced dream rock makes its maiden trip to the city via a gig at The Mad Planet.
Published July 19, 2015
Tarsem Singh is a man who spent about four years and much of his own money traveling the globe's most outrageously beautiful locales in order to make his magnum opus "The Fall." So how'd he end up standing behind the camera of "Self/Less," an utterly anonymous and impact-free immortality action-thriller that - much like the fresh if not quite new bodies being peddled in the film - seems "alive only in the most basic sense"?
Published July 18, 2015
What if? It's two simple words, not even adding up 10 letters, but that seemingly innocent question has likely haunted every single person that's walked this planet at some point or another. And it's a question that fascinates Milwaukee native Cynthia Swanson, so much so that she made that idea the cornerstone for her debut novel, "The Bookseller."
Published July 17, 2015
Every band has at least a small group of devoted fans cheering it on and supporting it on its way to the spotlight. The retro "nu-wop" family band The Bronx Wanderers, coming to Festa Italiana this weekend, is no different - except some of those devoted fans just happen to be entertainment icons from their hometown neighborhood, including Dion DiMucci, Tony Orlando and Oscar-nominated actors Chazz Palminteri and Danny Aiello.
Published July 15, 2015
When Festa Italiana starts up this Friday at Henry Maier Festival Park, many will flock down to the lakefront to gulp down some real authentic Italian food and wine. Yet some of the most revered tastes of Italian culture coming to town this weekend are wholly inedible: the lovingly crafted and almost identical replicas of the country's most famous sites - this year including a 50-foot duplicate of the iconic Trevi Fountain.
Published July 12, 2015
Whenever some pop cultural hallmark gets a shiny new Hollywood remake or reboot, the Internet's response is always the same, to the point that you might as well give it its own key on the keyboard: "They're destroying my childhood!" In all cases, it's complete hyperbolic fanboy spazzing - all, except for maybe the case of "Terminator: Genisys" (the silly bonus y nicely echoing my main line of thought while watching the movie).
Published July 11, 2015
Channing Tatum must've heard your laments concerning the first "Magic Mike" film and brought most of the gang back together for "Magic Mike XXL," the best possible version of the sexy, silly male stripper movie audiences thought they were getting the first time though.