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Review: Looper (Tiff 2012)

Sep. 10, 2012by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: In the year 2047, Joseph Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a “Looper”- where gangsters from the year 2077 zap people marked for execution back thirty years, where Simmons and his cronies can more easily dispose of their bodies. Eventually, his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back, but the wily, older Simmons escapes. Now, the younger Simmons must find and kill his future self, or be hunted down by his underworld associates.

REVIEW: LOOPER is one hell of a way to kick off this year's edition of TIFF. Granted- action films aren't usually the norm for TIFF- at least outside of Midnight Madness, but then again, it's not often we get a genre flick like LOOPER. A time-travel tale that merely uses it's OUTER LIMITS style-hook, that of a young hit man forced to kill an older version of himself, as a way of plunging is deep into a futuristic noir universe- where truly, there are some things worse than death (as one of Levitt's fellow LOOPERS finds out early-on).

The character at the heart of LOOPER, Levitt/Willis' Joseph Simmons is one of the more intriguing big-screen heroes to come along in quite some time. One would assume that writer/director Rian Johnson, by presenting both the younger/older version of the character would try to go the standard Hollywood route of the older, wiser Simmons teaching the younger version about the weight of his years. Not so. Rather, Levitt and Willis are kept separated for much of the film- other than one lengthy confrontation- shot HEAT-style, in a diner.

Comparing and contrasting their performances is going to be something a lot of us will be doing in repeated viewings, but even the first time out, the similarities and the differences are fascinating. Naturally- Levitt's version of Simmons is the younger, more inexperienced half of the duo, with Willis' version having a good thirty years to wreak carnage, which has left him a virtually unstoppable killing machine (his evolution is depicted is a terrific montage). But- rather than have Levitt portray him as naive, or impetuous- Johnson does the opposite. Rather, Levitt's the more thoughtful, introspective one- while the older Willis is the desperate, somewhat selfish one.

Both Willis and Levitt are amazing, with this easily being Willis' best role in years. Watching him blast his way through a tough, uncompromisingly R-rated thriller is a real treat, and he seems engaged in a way here that we haven't really seen in a while. But- LOOPER is without a doubt Levitt's film. A lot of us have become fans of his thanks to his work in recent movies like 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, INCEPTION, and (especially) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, but his work in LOOPER is something else. Given a fairly subtle makeover that makes him somewhat resemble Willis circa-MOONLIGHTING, Levitt totally revamps his own persona, opting for a vibe that's close enough to Willis to be convincing, but avoids becoming a caricature or impression. Instead, he makes the part his own- and does an incredible job. Levitt's worked with Johnson before (in the underrated BRICK), and Johnson definitely brings out a certain hard-boiled quality in Levitt that I haven't seen before.

Now- the thing about LOOPER is that it's definitely a movie you don't want to walk into knowing too much about. Suffice to say, after the first act-coinciding with the introduction of Emily Blunt's character, the film goes in another direction that ended up being absolutely riveting, and cannily- hasn't been revealed by any of the trailers. I'm certainly not going to be the one to spoil it, other than to tell you the twist takes LOOPER beyond being a merely top-notch thriller into possible genre classic territory. Blunt wasn't kidding when she said a few months ago (at Comic Con) that this one one of the best roles she ever had.

Certainly, Rian Johnson's going to emerge from LOOPER as one of the most sought-after directors in town. He has his own distinct style here, giving it a cool, noir-like twinge that recalls BRICK, but- again, is probably more subtle than that was (the dialogue isn't anywhere near as stylized). In the universe Johnson's created for LOOPER, the year 2047 is like a noir nightmare gone mad, ruled by a monolithic criminal empire- represented here by Jeff Daniels' (a great performance) deceptively easy-going boss- himself the tool of an even worse overlord called “The Rainmaker”.

The gangsters are divvied up into two categories, the grunt-ish “Loopers”, and the slicker “Gat-men”, who brandish their oversized “gat” like the gunzels in old-time Humphrey Bogart movies. Don't expect flying cars or anything like that. This is less BLADE RUNNER, and more KISS ME DEADLY- which, to me, is a pretty original tact for Johnson to take. Like BRICK (and THE BROTHERS BLOOM) LOOPER reunites Johnson with his go-to composer Nathan Johnson, who puts together one of the most memorable soundtracks I've heard outside of a Christopher Nolan film in years.

The only downside to having LOOPER as TIFF's opening film is that it's so damn good, it'll be a hard act to follow. I was absolutely electrified by LOOPER, and I have a feeling this is going to be one film that's going to making a huge mark when it opens later this month. It's one of the few recent stand-alone sci-fi action films that's truly worthy of being compared to something like THE TERMINATOR- and one that I know I'll be revisiting as soon as possible.

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