This past week was a big week for this filmgoer, as not only did I get to see the new Paul Thomas Anderson film--an event for which I typically mark my calendar--but I also got to see the new Rian Johnson film, who for my money is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. If a gun were pointed at my head, there are probably only four working directors whose work I anticipate with as comparable a fervor as I do Johnson's (for those wondering at home, the aforementioned Anderson, Malick, Cuarón, and my main man, Ben Affleck). Looper justified my anticipation while falling just a bit shy of my enormous expectations.
Any feelings about the film are chiefly informed by how enthralled one is by the world that Rian Johnson creates. Unlike perhaps any working director, Johnson has an ability to create a world around his characters that is informed by multiple genres, typically infusing the film with highly stylized dialogue reminiscent of masters like Chandler, Faulkner, and Wilder. In three times out, the end result has been captivating.
In the form of Looper, he infuses the post-apocalyptic time-travel subgenre with a healthy dose of noir styling, complete with the classic noir anti-hero living in the seamy criminal underworld. It's a winning combination, and with Johnson's panache and skills obscuring of the ride is one filled with enough vim and vigor to distract the viewer from the various minor plot holes and foggy areas that typically lie just beneath the surface of his films.
The whole film works due in large part to the performance of the three leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt. All are great. Reportedly a risk of late, Willis is fully invested. Gordon-Levitt is great, just as anyone who has been paying attention would expect as he's turned in fantastic performances in role after role. Blunt, who doesn't always seamlessly pull off what is asked of her, ably inhabits the person of the guilty single mother. Jeff Daniels's turn as the temporally displaced mob boss is a stand-out performance, giving him the chance to play the bad guy, albeit an atypical one. Hell, there's even a kid, and he's not horrible.
While I'll refrain from getting into plot, as that's not what I do here, I will say that Johnson smartly avoids the pitfalls of getting too heavily invested in the larger ramifications and technicalities of time travel. Johnson uses time travel simply as a plot device, a way to explore themes while avoiding the often dull scientific exposition and overly convoluted storylines. He makes the conscious decision to go down the route of making an ultimately understandable film, forgoing the potential for massive confusion of a film like Primer, which while brilliant would never play to a large audience befitting the cast and budget at play in Looper. By and large, that decision is a good one, and Looper is the latest in the storied line of fantastic time-travel action flicks that we all know and love. With Johnson's latest film closing in on 150% return on its budget, Looper's success can only mean good things for whatever his next project ends up being.