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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Looper (Release Date: 9-28-2012)

        All right everybody, you can breathe; we've made it to October. Sure, the season is souring, and the weather is finally growing cold (here in Oregon, anyways), but at least we don't have to shift through that sordid trash heap of flicks that always invades theaters from the end of August through the start of October. There's only one similarly stingy stretch on Hollywood's calendar (January through mid-February), but the onslaught of garbage does allow Tinseltown to throw in an occasional diamond in the rough. These are films that have some box office potential, but are probably a bit too weird/edgy to really become breakaway hits... or so the big-wigs think. Among your Conan the Barbarians or your Disaster Movies, the last several late summer/early fall's have seen some winners, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, The Town, and Drive among them. It's been a rough season over all, but at least, when we recall the dry spell of late 2012, we can look back with a big, goofy, geeky smile at the thrill ride that is Looper.

        Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a, 'Looper,' in a futuristic Kansas of 2044. A, 'Looper,' as Joe explains via voice-over within the film's opening frames, is a hit-man of a very specific designation. Though time travel does not exist at the present moment, it does some 30-odd years in the future, at which time the mob uses it to chuck those whom they find unsavory back to Joe, and those of his ilk. The loopers then finish the job, are rewarded handsomely, and spend their evenings living the highlife in the desecrated remains of the nearest metropolis (because, really, why wouldn't every city go to scuzzy, filthy hell in the future?). It's a good gig, one that Joe performs without many reservations until he's faced with his most unique target to date: himself, 30 years down the road (Bruce Willis). Let the mind games and blow-outs begin!

        What I've just offered is only a sliver of what writer/director Rian Johnson has cooked up here, and much of the fun in watching Looper derives from a constant state of discovery. His future never seems forced, nifty gadgets and societal shifts both played with a deft balance of portioning and showmanship. Unlike many cinematic vision of the future, Looper's depiction feels like an entire reality, capable of containing many individuals and occurrences instead of just one protagonist's story. Hats off to production designer Ed Verreaux and art director James A. Gelarden, who's tactile, logically ill-logical world is one of the very best aspects of the film. Same goes for cinematographer Steve Yedlin, who juggles sleek surfaces with grime, gore, and foreboding like he was born for it. But the graces don't stop there...

        Gordon-Levitt, stripped of his most deadly weapon as an actor (that genuine-as-hell smile), does a plainly magnificent impersonation of old Bruce, changing his voice and body language and over-all energy to marvelous effect (though the excellent work of the make-up department ought not be overlooked). The scenes that he shares with Willis play like two thespians seeing who can do a better impression, which proves fun, humorous, tense, and exciting all at the same time. There are a variety of other performers whom I could highlight, but I've sworn myself to silence. The less you know going into Looper, the better.

        Those who really want to dig in and find something wrong with the flick will be fully capable. The time-travel logic is often shaky at best, and too much of the film's final act is dedicated to letting bullets fly. Even those detractors, however, would be hard-pressed to deny that Johnson has stewed up something pretty damn delicious here, throwing all manner of film history, from Blade Runner to The Maltese Falcon, into a crock-pot, and serving up something as rich as it is tasty. His screenplay is chuck-full of details and grace-notes, storing secrets for later as often as he floats out tantalizing red herrings. Looper is that rarest of things: A high-concept, star-driven, Sci-Fi action flick that feels at once more novelistic than cinematic, not because its philosophies are particularly engrossing, but because its world and its scene feel so developed and dense. Looper is one of the best movies of 2012 thus far, a puzzle that keeps you guessing until the last minute, a two-hour adventure that finds you firmly planted on the edge of your seat, and perhaps the strongest evidence yet that Johnson is a young filmmaker with a serious voice, and some serious talent.

Grade: A-

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