Saturday, October 13, 2012

Looper ( Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In what seems like a hybrid of "High Noon" and "The Terminator", here is Rian Johnson's "Looper", a sci-fi Spaghetti Western film that could have been a bit silly were it not for the honest and wry performances that beguile and entertain with tension and a Saturday Matinee suspense. Johnson is no stranger to these hard edged, pot-sticker stories. He directed the interesting dog-eat-dog druggie thriller "Brick".

In "Looper" we are in America in the year 2044 and society is in a state of collapse. There are tent cities everywhere but the landscape is more like "Road Warrior" than "The Hunger Games." All elements and objects are oxidized and worn. Even Jeff Daniels' beard is unkempt. Guns jam and people eat food that is both meager and dirty.

There is one shiny red sports car but that is the only exception.

Time travel has just been invented and is instantly outlawed. It is soon the domain of organized crime. Various low-lifes and black jacketed techies, presided over by Jeff Daniels, have lists of various people they want put out of commission. There is one single way to get out of contract and that is to somehow dispose of your older self. This doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense to me, but I don't think it matters. This is pulp sci-fi that never loses its revolution and it is ultimately satisfying no matter where the story wanders. At first, I was a bit confused by the switching back and forth in locale and time, but you are given little bits of information at a stretch so as not to be overwhelmed. By the midway point, the explanation and action reach a harmony and all is pure fun.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a young mercenary hit man who collects on men with prices on their heads. He's fed up and wants out. Somehow, an older version of himself arrives in a cornfield, an older Joe: squinty-eyed and somewhat weary (Bruce Willis). The exchanges between Willis and Gordon-Levitt are the best parts of the film and are nothing short of a fast paced, Internet-punk version of "Pale Rider", "Westworld" or "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966).

True, the dialogue is minimal at best, but a Bruce Willis squint with a mouth that is classically puckered is worth a quantum load of dialogue. Joseph Gordon-Levitt holds his own with his stern Billy The Kid aloofness for the IPad epoch. Even his black, painted-on eyebrows, which at first appear corny, are an homage to The Silent Screen cowboy: a Tom Mix fusion of Burt Reynolds edged with an uncanny mimic of Bruce Willis' trademarked sour stare.

The always interesting Emily Blunt gives a fine, although familiar role as a caring guardian for a cute telekinetic boy (Pierce Gagnon) who is America's most wanted toddler, and also bears a resemblance to the young Danny Lloyd in "The Shining" (1980).

As far out as "Looper" is, the film is chock full of haunting silent imagery. The cornfield reminds one of a Capote crime exposé, and whether intentional or not, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's posture with his weapon echoes Lee Harvey Oswald. Young Joe is both a sociopathic cypher and a saint, a marked man and martyr.

This is a chase film with a nod to the noir, laced with a desire for the exotic Far East. These preoccupations recall the Robert Mitchum classics of the 40's, if not in shadow than at least in substance. It is a riveting, on - edge amphetamine jaunt and even if you don't enjoy "wanted man" stories, your other self will leave logic to the wind and ricochet back into the lobby to see "Looper".

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