Director Rian Johnson ('Brick' and 'The Brothers Bloom') delivers an adult sci-fi with something to say. 'Looper' recalls Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' for sheer audacity and vision, and Peter Weir's 1985 Harrison Ford starring 'Witness' for intelligence and character development.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe... and so does Bruce Willis. And any niggles you may have heard about how Gordon-Levitt's make-up spoils your viewing pleasure? I say "Bull." Kazuhiro Tsuji, the designer of Gordon-Levitt's prosthetic make-up, does an amazing job. And any quibbles about Willis' acting? I say "Bull" - times two. He can act... when he has a decent director and script - just watch him in 'Twelve Monkeys' or 'Unbreakable' or 'Pulp Fiction.' Willis can act. He just gets paid so much to be in so much by-the-numbers generic Hollywood dross that he doesn't often bother...
But the standout acting here is neither by Gordon-Levitt nor Willis. Remember how Haley Joel Osment stole the show from Bruce in 'The Sixth Sense'? Well little Pierce Gagnon does the same here, as the little boy in the care of Emily Blunt's character, Sara. He shines, and it's testament to Rian Johnson's direction that he can coax such a convincing performance out of one so young.
Like the direction, the script is first rate, laced with comic irony, great ideas and a moral message too. The stand-out scene is the cafe meeting between old and young Joe. The dialogue crackles and the tension is undercut by a wonderful wit that has you simultaneously smiling and squirming in your seat.
The only way you'll feel let down is if you go in expecting an all-out, balls-to-the-wall action sci-fi spectacle. It's more 'Drive' than 'Die Hard' - with the action and violence coming in hard, fast and brutal bursts in a narrative propelled by characters rather than cliche. That said, the sci fi elements are all there, subtly interwoven into a future where things aren't all shiny and silver. Instead they're a bit, well, crap. Solar panels strapped higgledy-piggledy onto cars. Floating speed bikes that don't quite work. It all feels more grubbily realistic than futuristically flash.
Nathan Johnson's score superbly accompanies every nuance and beat of the narrative and Steve Yedlin's cinematography and Bob Ducsay's editing are first rate. As are the supporting cast, from Emily Blunt's protective mother figure to Jeff Daniels as Abe, the gangster from the future, who at one point explains: "This time travel crap; just fries your brain like an egg." Paul Dano is great as poor old Seth the Looper loser, as is Noah Segan as the much maligned Kid Blue - who pretty much ends up with the sh*t end of the Looper's blunderbuss throughout.
When all's said and done this is one of those movies that makes movie nuts like me wonder why we sift through so much Hollywood garbage - because sometimes, less often than we'd like, there's a diamond to be found in that river of effluent pumped out by the 'Dream Factory' and 'Looper' is one of those rare gems.
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