Of course it was a given I’d go and see “Looper.” I’d developed kind of a persistent crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt since “Inception” — something about him floating around those rooms in a nice vest-and-tie combo really appealed to me. (I do love a guy who can wear a vest-and-tie combo.) He wears a tie nicely in “Looper,” but that’s only some of its ancillary pleasures.
Because of the tons of commercials, I don’t really need to tell you that “Looper” is about time traveling contract killers, and that Joe (as I like to call him in my head) plays one, and that Bruce Willis plays the older version of him. Joe wears prosthetics to look more like Bruce Willis (he’s always properly Bruce Willis in my head), and some reviewers found that distracting — myself, I found the makeup obvious in some shots, but I think the more genius mimicry is actually in his voice and the constant pissed-off furrow of his brow and downturn of his frown. I didn’t have a problem with it, though sometimes the weirdness of his prostheticized mouth and jawline did distract me from his superb tie-wearing. But those are petty quibbles; in general, I was too busy enjoying the time travel stuff, unraveling the plot and intricacies, both philosophical and logistical, of the sci-fi aspects, and thoroughly enjoying the bat-shit crazy supporting performance of Paul Dano. The whole film was a fun puzzle to sit through and figure out. I hadn’t been so engaged by a film in a long, long time — I could feel my head working in the dark as I watched in a really good, pleasurable way.
Beyond being super-enjoyable and a really smart, creative popcorn movie, I loved the unexpected left turns of the film. Left turns in movies are fascinating to me: like when smaller movies seem embedded into bigger movies, or you head off with a new character for a moment, or a strand of backstory unravels that makes it all so much more resonant. I think mostly about how these cinematic left turns were critiqued when I was in film school, as we were making our own films and writing our own feature scripts — mostly you’d get chided over not sticking with the main character, or digressing from what is supposed to be a taut storyline. And it’s true, you don’t want to make such a left turn that you don’t fulfill the early promises set up by the early part of the work — and you don’t want to venture so far off the path that you have a hard time heading back. But there’s something about left turns that uncovers the real soul of the movie, what’s genuinely odd and eccentric about the creator’s imagination.
“Looper”‘s so-called left turn takes the film out of the urban-y, sci-fi thriller genre it’d been (Somewhat brilliantly) trafficking in and goes into what I call semi-Terrence Malick territory — wide fields, a quieter pace, richer character moments. It’s interesting, because it happens at the point in a script where conventionally filmmakers are told to speed up and let the events of their plot “play out.” I could feel my own internal clock get itchy at points, like “Why aren’t we going faster?” Movie pacing is so internalized by viewers by now, to the point where I’d argue that it feels like instinct even though it’s completely culturally prescribed. Without giving too much away, it’s this rural, Malick-y idyll in the film where it goes beyond clever and becomes truly interesting on a moral, ethical and even philosophical level: where the film contemplates larger questions beyond “What happens next?”
Of course, director Rian Johnson handles the left turn in such a way that the information revealed during it becomes an integral part of the pulse propelling the movie forward later (therefore making it less “left turn-y,” I suppose, and genuinely useful in what they call “the narrative economy.”) And the film speeds to its conclusion, ending with a moment of black screen and a quiet that lasts well into the ending credits. It’s almost a pity that it spins so quickly into its ending, actually. It’s like when something gets oh-so-close to genius — just a few more spins, really — but in the end settles for grand, high-concept entertainment.