Looper: ‘an action film with a heart’
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 00:10
The future has never looked so beautifully decrepit.
In Looper, writer and director Rian John tells the tale of a contract killer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) using time travel to prevent the rise of his reality’s antichrist, in which the design of the world builds upon the aesthetic popularized by George Lucas.
In the first Star Wars film in 1977, audiences were presented with science fiction sets that did not resemble the clean, glossy and bright ones from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lucas decided to dirty the sets, creating the illusion of them being “lived in.” Two years later, Ridley Scott took the aesthetic even further by applying it to the costumes and makeup for his “truckers in space” design. In Looper, Johnson pushes it even past the boundaries reached by Scott. Electronics in the future Earth are held together by duct tape or glue and the vehicles that travel the streets are dented, rusted and are missing parts. Everyone who walks the face of this diseased earth has a dirtied soul. Levitt’s character has a social network consisting of mobsters, prostitutes and drug dealers. Morality is as elusive as the first high his character tries to recreate with the narcotic he administers through his eyes. It is not until both versions of the character venture to the countryside that they discover purity in the scenery and in the formation of a family.
Violence, the other half of the aesthetic, borrows on classic tradition as well. Johnson enjoys using extreme close-ups of his character’s faces, seeing the beautiful geography that Irvin Kershner used in The Empire Strikes Back, but more importantly, Sergio Leone used in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. During the numerous standoffs in the film, Johnson alternates between these close-ups and wide shots of the men facing each other, weapons drawn, much like Leone used with the three men during the last showdown in the final film in his Dollars Trilogy. However, like Resident Evil: Retribution, it can be a polarizing film in terms of the violent content.
When depicting the violence, Johnson alternates between implying the violence and focusing on the aftermath, or showing the exchange of gunfire in a continuous sequence. This allows for him to accomplish different ends with each scene. The long takes are reserved for gun-battles involving multiple characters and captures the adrenaline of fighting for one’s life, or in the case of one set in a diner, reminds the audience of the chaos in editing such events in a wink to metafiction. While it does stay within the parameters of Leone’s westerns and the less-is-more aesthetic, at times, it can be seen as over the top (and after all, Bruce Willis’s films are not known for subtlety).
Speaking of alternate realities, the time travel in the film is handled well. Time travel has had an inconsistent track record on the screen. The lesson to be learned from the failures is to keep it simple. When one starts introducing paradoxes into the script, the process becomes akin to walking a tightrope while juggling bowling balls. Johnson even has Willis’s character acknowledge how easy it is to clutter up a simple concept. There are no bursts of tachyons or electromagnetic pulse as in the tradition set by The Terminator. Characters simply blink into existence, with their clothes on. The lack of spectacle is refreshing, as Hollywood has envisioned every possible look for said travel.
The last aspect of the film that works is the performances from the cast. Willis and Gordon-Levitt work well in portraying different iterations of the same character. They established a terrific performance continuity, such as Levitt forming the Willis’ smirk, that is reinforced by the superb makeup department that cements the illusion of the two being the same man. Jeff Daniels emerged from the lagoon of independent film and theater to star as Abe, a sadistic mobster. Emily Blunt, on the other hand, supplies a terrific performance as Sara, a single mother with her own stained conscience.
Looper is an enjoyable time-travel tale. At the end of the day, it is an action film with a heart, a rare combination outside of superhero films. So, it is worth a viewing, if one’s taste can be extended to gritty apocalyptic westerns.