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 5, 2015
It shouldn't have come as a surprise to see the Marcus Amphitheater a maybe generous 50 percent full - albeit an extremely enthusiastic and appreciative 50 percent - on Saturday night for The Avett Brothers. But while the bluegrass folk rock band had apparent problems filling the venue with fans, the band had no problem whatsoever completely filling the venue with strong, soulful music on the Fourth of July.
Published July 3, 2015
In fact, other than some busy confetti cannons - and I mean very busy - OK Go's 90-minute set pushed aside any sign of the viral video prop-heavy gimmickry the band is most famous for and instead relied on its power pop rock music and some charming banter to click with the Summerfest crowd. And, as it turns out, that was more than enough to deliver an awesome and entertaining evening.
Published July 2, 2015
Barely two years after his first show in 2013, WebsterX is now living his dream world he created of being a rap star. The 22-year-old rapper has risen to become one of the Milwaukee music scene's biggest stars, grabbing local and national headlines and, most recently, opening for global superstar Lupe Fiasco at the Miller Lite Oasis on Friday, July 3 at 8 p.m.
Published July 2, 2015
During his Amphitheater performance Wednesday night, Kendrick Lamar noted the last time he was here, "the energy was so motherf*ckin' loud," and if that was a 10, he wanted this show to hit a 12. Well, it certainly felt like a 12, with the packed crowd bobbing their heads, swaying their arms and just generally going crazy for every verse. And even though it barely lasted 60 minutes, Lamar's vigorous fireball of a set gave them plenty to go crazy about.
Published July 1, 2015
I'll admit it; before Tuesday night's Marcus Amphitheater show started up, one of those people was me. I wondered why a band, whose last seemingly notable moments came at the service of three-fourths of Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise, was a Big Gig Amp headliner. Well, one large serving of crow, please, cooked medium rare.
Published June 30, 2015
Most bands desperately hope that their music videos will go viral. For pop rockers OK Go, at this point, it's almost expected. With a Summerfest headliner set scheduled for the Uline Warehouse on Thursday, July 2, I chatted with bassist/vocalist Tim Nordwind about the band's stories behind some of their viral sensations.
Published June 30, 2015
After traveling the globe in support of its star-making self-titled debut album, PHOX's tour is bringing the band right back to where its journey started in the first place: Wisconsin. Before it heads home to Baraboo, the band is dropping by its "home away from home" of Milwaukee to play Summerfest, opening for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros on Thursday, July 2. Before then, we talked to Matt Holmen about his own fond Big Gig memories.
Published June 29, 2015
According to, well, herself, DJ Paris Hilton is one of the top paid DJs currently working. Unfortunately, much like the "Transformers" movies, her Summerfest set was one of those situations where the amount of the money involved was inversely proportionate to the amount of skill on display. Also like the "Transformers" films, it was loud, clunky, sporadically dull despite all of the noise, unnecessarily lengthy and, by the end, left me in a little bit of pain.
Published June 28, 2015
If you've seen Disney/Pixar's latest animated hit "Inside Out," there's a good chance a certain song has been rattling around in your mind ever since. No, not that TripleDent gum jingle, but the chorus to "Lava," the brief and beautifully rendered short about a volcanic island looking for love. While the short takes plenty of inspiration from Hawaii, as it turns out, Murphy's journey to get there made a stop right here in Milwaukee.
Published June 28, 2015
As clearly proved Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, "Shut Up And Dance" pop rockers Walk The Moon can now draw a packed house. The only question: Would they put on a show worthy of the face painted mob they gathered? Most certainly.