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 â€“ and saleable â€“ 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 â€“ as well as specialized killers called gat men â€“ 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 â€“ a noir-tinged vision of bad guys, bad women, drugs and dark alleys infested with poor â€“ 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 Jan. 24, 2015
It doesn't take long into George Lucas' bizarre new animated movie "Strange Magic" to ask "What the heck am I watching?" Not shortly after, that question turns into "Why the heck am I still watching this?" It's hard to rationalize a good answer for either.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
After the Sony hack forced "The Interview" out of its prime Christmas release slot, "Blackhat" seemed to be perfectly primed to take its place. Alas, Universal kept the film in January. And maybe that was for the best, because even with its timely sounding synopsis, "Blackhat" plays like a relic, recalling less the anxiety of today's headlines and more the warmed-over memories of yesterday's forgettable action junk and silly techno-trash.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
A day before the Common Council meets to vote on the Milwaukee streetcar plan, advocates and opponents made their final pushes to gain public support or enough signatures for a referendum.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
"Selma" is much more accomplished than "timely" gives it credit - or that its award season release and Important Movie surface may imply. It may appear like yet another Great Man Oscar bait biopic. Instead, it plays exactly like what many of those films are desperately reaching to be: a deeply powerful and deftly nuanced movie, one that beautifully captures the man and his mission with clear eyes, leaving viewers with teary ones thoroughly earned.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
After heading into the heart of the South in "The Beautiful Music All Around Us," the Milwaukee Rep now travels up to Southie in Boston, the home of the Ben Affleck, the Red Sox, pahking the cahr in Hahvahd Yahd and David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People." Taking over the award-winning role of Margie in the Rep's production is Milwaukee actress and director Laura Gordon, but it's not her first go around with the street smart Southie native.
Published Jan. 16, 2015
Every January, the Academy wakes the film-obsessed nation bright and early to present its picks for the best movies of the past year. And every year, it's a three-way tie for headlines between the expected, the exciting and the excrement.
Published Jan. 15, 2015
Bright and early this morning, the joint forces of Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, Alfonso Cuaron and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs prattled off the 2015 Oscar nominees. "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" lead the pack with nine nominations for each - including Best Picture nods for both.
Published Jan. 14, 2015
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's been called a lot of things over his prodigious career. Light and cartoonish, however, would not likely be two of them. Yet here we are with "Inherent Vice," which goes down satisfyingly like a late night pizza on 4/20.
Published Jan. 13, 2015
Stephen Wade has played many roles throughout his life. He's a scholar. He's an author. He's a musician and a performer, bringing banjo and traditional folk music across the nation in one-man shows - including the Rep's upcoming "The Beautiful Music All Around Us." Arguably his most famous role, however, is as a kind of musical detective, uncovering a nation's musical history that's very much alive and very often hiding in plain sight.
Published Jan. 12, 2015
Hollywood insiders and magazines would have you believe 2014 was a miserable year for movies. And from a financial perspective, yes, they're totally correct. From a quality standpoint, however, 2014 was kind of terrific. Movie critic Matt Mueller breaks down the best (and a few of the worst) the year had to offer.