Review: Looper

Review: Looper

Looper, a post-neo-Noir time traveling enigma of a film began its theatrical run last week. I largely enjoyed the film as evidently so did many critics; the film’s current Rotten Tomatoes score is a robust 94%.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character lives in Kansas in 2044; Bruce Willis’s older version of the same guy resides in 2074 China. We see very little of 2074, which is good because you don’t feel like we are jumping timelines/locations, which would just add to the confusion in a time-travel movie.

The manipulation of JGL’s face to believably play a hitman who ages to look like Bruce Willis was done exquisitely. Admittedly, it is distracting for Gordon-Levitt’s first 5 minutes of screen time as he does not look as pretty and snuggly as in (500) Days of Summer or as sly and shrewd as in Inception. Swiftly, though, the viewer is able to suspend belief despite the trickery and can easily merge into the ebb and flow of the film’s fatiloquence.

Essentially, JGL plays Joe, an employee of one of the 6 major crime syndicates creeping around the US in 2044. As you have probably seen in the trailer, he waits in a cornfield with a shotgun (called a Blunderbuss for its potent power but rotten aim) and blows away any victims the future crime syndicate overlords send back for him to kill.

A friend of mine expressed reservations about the film’s body disposal method; he wanted to be assured that there was a reason to send executees back in time to be dispatched. Fortunately, the film cleanly explains the reason for the process within the first 5 minutes. Inconspicuously disposing of corpses in 2074 is nearly impossible because of biotechnology and other identifiers; it’s still somewhat easy in 2044 .

Structurally speaking, the pacing of the film is spot on. The second act does not grind us to a stop, but allows character exposition and important dialogue to be spoken emotively by the principals.

Seeing indie royalty JGL act against indie royalty Paul Dano is too good to be true. Besides both of them being in previous indies with Zooey Deschanel as their love interests ((500) Days of Summer and Gigantic, respectively), both of these young men have indie film oeuvres that would impress any Indie Spirit Awards attendee. This mutual background in independent film serves them well in the more dialogue- and suspense-heavy scenes.

Bruce Willis shows no signs of slowing. Truly, he refuses to apologize for his age. He isn’t trying too hard (like you see some aging actors attempt), he just knows that he is as bad-ass at 57 as he was at 27 and will still be awesome when he’s 80. Despite aging muscles, Willis is in top-form. He’s wonderfully svelte and agile in this film; he really moves like a cat. Honestly, he is aging with dignity and grace along with the ability to thwart villainy with acute alacrity. His boisterous yet strangely slinky performance in Looper has somehow made me excited to see him in the next Die Hard installment (see the trailer for A Good Day to Die Hard if you haven’t already).

Director Rian Johnson has also helmed Brick, a JGL showcase, as well as the incredibly beloved The Brothers Bloom (starring the equally affable Adrien Brody). Looper may seem like a frenetic choice for the director of the aforementioned cerebral offerings, but the first act is truly more like Bladerunner, Ridley Scott’s Cyberpunk classic.

The somewhat optimistic prognostication of the US in 30 years was my favorite element of the film. 2044 may be 32 years in the future, but it doesn’t always feel like it. In fact, some of the in-city sequences have more of a Boardwalk Empire feel than a futuristic one. Scenes outside the city do markedly feel more lifted from the first half of the 20th century rather than 30 years in the future. Advances in energy technology seem to be the reason for the split.

If society and technology (and nano-technology) kept advancing at the current rate, we’d probably end up with a Mad Max situation without some big energy solutions. Energy independence is not a partisan issue; everyone from Al Gore to George W. Bush have condemned our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. According to many sources, including the International Energy Agency, conventional oil production peaked around 5 years ago; our current Peak Oil society has not however peaked in its consumption of (and desire for) black gold.

Looper’s future is full of solar panels and photo-voltaics that power everything from automobiles to homes. But don’t think that the movie’s inclusion of renewable energy is heavy-handed or preachy; on the contrary, if energy issues weren’t a pet interest of mine, I am not sure I would have even noticed.

Because renewables have a lower power capacity than their fossil-derived brethren (the high-quality ‘conventional’ stuff anyway), the filmmaker has not pulled any punches when showing that solar panels and photo-voltaics are not an invisible solution (like the mechanisms/receptors of their fossil fuel counterparts). This is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that the cars in Looper are small and completely cloaked in solar receptors. The source of the energy used by 2044’s denizens is never out of mind because they constantly see what powers their machines, which is starkly different to today where our fuels are put into tanks of the machines and virtually invisible (sans any smog they might emit).

Perhaps due to the future’s lack of high-return/energy dense fossil fuels, you will notice a limited amount of handheld technology in the future. Innovators have focused their ingenuity on solving the energy crisis instead of creating new gadgets, so you do not see many shiny toys; evidently we have had to reduce our overall consumption of energy in the future in order to survive and thrive. Life goes on as before in 2044, but energy is earmarked for more “important” uses, such as travelling, work, food preparation, and other practical activities.

While it is undeniable that renewables cannot presently provide for current levels of energy consumption (driven by a dominantly fossil-fueled society), do remember that 30 years have elapsed in Looper’s construct, so science has perhaps made renewables even more potent and efficient. This honing and improving of renewable hardware is believable, especially when new developments on the technical horizon are currently imperative to thwart the encroachment of a Mad Max-style dystopian future in real life.

Hopefully, this will be realistic oracularity and we can solve our energy demands peacefully and efficiently.

Overall, my advice for the film? Try to shut your brain off about the schematics of time travel and associated plotholes/inconsistencies associated therein. Just enjoy the ride.

Recommendation Level: Recommended