Friday, December 7, 2012

Movie Review: Looper
I love Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex from what I've seen of it so far. Lovin' it, and REALLY lovin' this song.

I saw Looper a while ago now. Unlike the Assassin's Creed III review though, this probably can't pull that kind of length. (EDIT: I do kinda, but it's all freakin' plot summary). Do you know why? Because I have almost nothing to complain about, and I get tired of praising alone.


Background: I had no experience with Looper before going. In fact, I had only seen a trailer once, when we deciding what movie to go see - I'd only seen TV commercials to the point that I knew it starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. Why did I choose to go then? This is a case of review scores coming in handy. I usually disregard low scores I see (because professional critics frequently hate stuff I like anyway), but I take note when I see HIGH scores (since critics hate everything, the exception to the rule is noteworthy). I was checking my Gmail and saw the little newsfeed on the top and it said that Looper had a fantastic 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is about as high as I had ever really seen RT be. Soon, Twitter testimonial about how awesome it was started showing up, and I started advocating for the film to my parents.

Intro: The film is a science fiction film set in a modified present day, with the modification based around the innovation of the Time Travel in the future. As the film says, in the future (I don't recall how many years), time travel will be invented. Due to the ramifications of such a technology, it is immediately outlawed. Now it sits only in the hands of the largest criminal organizations. Joe belongs to this organization. Joe lives in the present. He's a Looper. Thanks to advances in crime-solving, hiding bodies in the future is no longer viable. To counteract this problem, the big organizations make use of Loopers, or hired assassins in the present day. They are told when the target will be sent back, bound and head-bagged, and the Looper kills him with a specialized blunderbuss (sort of a modified shotgun) and incinerates the body. Strapped to his back is a set of silver blocks that serve as payment. The downside to being a Looper is that you will inevitably kill yourself - one day, the enigmatic victim you kill is yourself, and strapped to his back is a set of golden blocks (vastly more valuable) that serves as your final payday. This self-killing is called Closing Your Loop.
A small group of future-organization member representatives have been sent back in time as well as a regulator of Loopers. He is the one who handles the Loopers, and is in charge of handling the rare instances of a particular violation of the rules: if you fail to close your loop. Both of you will be killed, hopefully before the future-self can modify the past significantly.
Small amounts of technology have managed to bleed through to the modern day. The blunderbuss is one, although not for being particularly advanced, and a kind of jetbike is another.
This is the background material that Joseph Gordon-Levitt narrates over the very beginning of the movie. I admit, I'm compelled by this concept. Obviously there's a bit of trouble whenever time travel arises,but this does a decent job and trying to handle potential paradoxes, so I'm okay with it.

I''m gonna dispense with a formal stance here. The movie begins with a long segment of Joe's life as it is. He's a very high-living person, and what's happening makes me think of the 1920s/30s - dreary boring day-life with a lot of poverty and a super-active last-day-alive nightife. The beginning of the film is repetitive, but intentionally as far as I can tell. Leaving the theater, my mom mentioned that she thought the beginning went on a bit long and seemed a touch boring after a bit despite the life seeming exciting, and I think that actually mirror's Joe's experience. It keeps jumping back forth between shots of him firing his blunderbuss at an appearing victim, then him doing his drugged out nightlife, then the same angle of shot of him blowing someone away, and then more nightlife, and the same angle of him blowing another away, and we get the sense that Joe is bored with his life even though he "should" find it exciting - familiar? That's what makes me think the director was TRYING to make the beginning stretch to a bit boring to mirror that feeling. An interesting strategy, and I'm not sure how well it pans out. It's thematically strong, but I'm not sure that a movie should ever actually bore the watcher. However, this was also the strongest way to evoke the boredom. I think boredom is among the hardest emotions for a director to imbue in a character and have the watcher identify. Anger, sadness, happiness, lust, hatred, love, fear, these are all pretty straightforward to draw out, but boredom is weird because you want them to identify without being actually bored themselves. They need to be interested and engaged about boredom, and that's HARD.
Anyway, so he's living large and still bored. Turns out he's also been saving half of his silver on every kill, and by now has a LOT of silver -

Actually I'm gonna jump to the side for a second. Near the beginning, we get a scene that isn't actually featuring or related to Joe at all, to show off the Closing Your Loop idea, or more importantly the NOT closing your loop idea. A Looper couldn't do it - future him got the drop on him and ran off. When the organization in the present heard about it, the head dragged in the Looper and calls, uh, I think he called him the surgeon - whatever it was, that was the gist of it. Anyway, now we're watching future him, clambering to get out of the city, when he looks at his arm and sees a scar of an arrow pointing inward along his alarm. He rolls up his sleeve and sees letters. Shot looks away, looks back, there's more scarred letters. It's saying to go to a specific location within an amount of time. And the camera moves and we see that he's now missing a finger. After looking away again, we see the hand again - two fingers gone. He starts to run and we cut to him running toward a building - we can hear screaming. And future him continues to lose parts until his legs are gone and he dies outside the building, which we see inside to see an organization member and a surgeon over a bloody operating table.
Why am I talking about this? Because this is a particularly relevant scene, but it's also an extraordinary representative of the dark material in the film. There is a LOT of badness - these are criminals, and this isn't Ocean's Eleven or Snatch or any other show where criminals get romanticized a bit. This film is dark as fuck. But we rarely SEE the darkness, and that's what's strong about it! This wouldn't have the same power if we saw him chopping the guy up. The act itself is veiled. It lends it power. We don't need it cheapened with gore or violence, we just need to slowly understand what's happening and know that horrors are happening. In other words, it falls in the proper side of Horror - not a slasher type, but the creepy dread and dawning realization of just how terrifying this world can be. There are a few scenes that are handled this way, and it's great.

Okay, so Joe is hoarding silver, saving up. We know that he's learning French, he wants to go to France. One more big set-up thing happens before the big kick happens and the film starts really going. A friend of his, a guy he parties with, who is a Looper himself, desperately is trying to get into Joe's place. Friend tells Joe what happened - he messed up Closing His Loop. Other him came through singing a song from his childhood, and the recognition caused him to hesitate for a moment and let future-him rush him and get away. He knows the organization is coming for him to try and use him to eliminate future-him, which by now we know about the surgeon so we're pretty freaked out about this happening. Joe finally relents and lets Friend get into his trapdoor bolthole full of silver, just as the organization goons are busting in. They take Joe to the boss. We get introduced to the Gat Man of the movie, Kid Blue. Gat men are the elite hitters of the organization. They wield magnum revolvers as their signature gun. The gat men are all about precision, wielding their guns with perfect aim and skill, comparing them to the Loopers, who wield the blunderbuss - as it gets put, the everyman's gun, since you're never going to hit with it from more than 15 feet away, and you're never going to miss when within 15 feet, whereas the Gats have range. Kid Blue is an important character, at the beginning fueled by arrogance and later fueled by obsessive vengeance, and the whole time deluded by his position. In a lot of ways, the way he handles his revolver reminds me a lot of Revolver Ocelot of Metal Gear Solid, especially the way he handles his guns at the beginning of MGS3 (though not in personality, and of course not in voice, though I desperately want to hear a character who actually sounds like Ocelot). All about flash and tricks with the gun, with a ton of skill shooting, but far too self-obsessed to really reach his potential. He's pretty much the complete antithesis of Joe, and I think he's the closest this film gets to a direct antagonist - he's the only one who is, from beginning to end, opposed to Joe on a personal level.
So Joe talks with Kid Blue a bit before being brought in to see the boss, the guy who came back from the future. Boss knows that Joe and Friend are pretty close, and thinks Joe knows where Friend is. They talk, and Joe denies everything, until Boss brings up that he knows that Joe's been stashing half of his silver on every kill. Boss gives the ultimatum - he takes the silver, and thus all Joe's plans for the future, or Joe gives up Friend. Faced with this, Joe caves and gives up that Friend is in his floor safe. We never see Friend again. This is an important scene because it establishes Joe's priorities - his own future is more important to him than other people.

Anyway, so pretty soon we get the big kick into action. As you may have picked up from trailers or from reading between the lines of what I'm talking about, Joe finds himself sent back. Problem - future Joe isn't bound and isn't headbagged. The hesitation, as usual, allows future Joe, who I will now refer to as Bruce to prevent confusion (Bruce, obviously, because of the actor playing him. Also, I'm curious if Joe/Joseph Gordon-Levitt was coincidence or intentional, but it's certainly helpful for me writing this!), to take advantage of Joe.
You may wonder how these guys are all breaking free with a moment of hesitation. There's a few things. First, they know they're going back, they can tell, and they're prepared. Second, the person they come up against is, well, a younger, less-experienced them. All of 'em were Loopers themselves obviously, and know what to do. As such, they're ready to take advantage of a moment's hesitation.
So Bruce pops in, and now Joe is flat on his back, waking up with a note on him to run for his life. He...doesn't.

This is where my coverage of the plot is gonna go a bit spotty. I just don't remember with as great precision, but no need to do so, I'll point out important bits.

After a bit, Joe wants to get in the same place as Bruce - likely to kill him. That's Joe's big goal, he wants Bruce dead, because if he can close his own loop he'll be off the hook, mostly at least. While he's somewhere, we see Bruce. He looks down, and sees the same arrow scar the audience saw on the other future-self runner (the dude who was sliced up by the surgeon), and he rolls back his sleeve for the message and we're relieved to see a different message, a simple phrase that Bruce remembers and uses to go to the diner by the field he did his killing. In the diner, he and Joe really meet. This is where we get the story from Bruce's side, seen in flashback.
He was the same as Joe - literally. All the way up until himself. His future-self didn't come through unbound like he did, and he killed him and found the gold payout. He used it to go to China, where he met a woman by chance. This woman would become his wife, and it shows them going through the rest of their life, up until one day they were hanging around at home when the organization bursts in. They steal Bruce away and kill his wife in front of him. When he's brought to the time machine, he breaks free and strikes out and disables his kidnappers, and climbs into the machine himself. He heads back on his own, unbound, and that's what Joe saw.
He describes what happens in the future. At some point, a mysterious figure known as The Rainmaker appeared. The Rainmaker is an enigma - no one knows who or what he is, but it is said he has superhuman powers and -
Oh wait, I skipper something earlier. At some point, a gene activated to give a spare few people telekinesis. It's only about enough to levitate a coin though - it's basically a party trick.
Okay, it's said that The Rainmaker is an incredibly powerful psychic. Over the course of time, he essentially takes over everything. That's when he started sending Loopers back, and now he seems to be wiping them all out. Before he was taken, Bruce had narrowed the Rainmaker's childhood home to three potential locations. His goal now: to kill the Rainmaker before he can take over. Joe agrees to work with him, and they split up the locations. They stop for a moment and notice a disturbance, and are just preparing when the organization and Kid Blue arrive. The fight back a bit, Joe with his blunderbuss and Bruce with his revolver. They shoot for a few minutes, but escape out the back. Bruce makes himself scarce and Joe slips into the fields (corn I think), Kid Blue on his tail. It doesn't take too long to lose the Gat Man, marking Kid Blue's first big screw-up. Joe's shot though, and worse, he's out of drops (the drug he's addicated to from the beginning - it's done with eyedrops). He stumbles into the yard of a gal's farmhouse, and she threatens him and he flees into the field again. That night, a crazy with a gun winds up in the yard, and Joe saves the gal and her son by taking him down. Soon after, he passes out, and she sets him up in the barn. Anyway, film things happen and he sticks around to protect them while he's recuperating since they're coming for him. In the meantime, we have a growing connection with the kid. Turns out the kid knows the gal isn't his real mom but his sister and knows she's lying about it.

Elsewhere, Bruce has found the first kid. And he kills him. Not on camera, but it's unmistakable. This is not a pleasant thing, and violece to children is one of the big issues my dad doesn't like. However, according to him, the way they portrayed it and the way Bruce Willis played the aftermath of it (visibly but silently utterly loathing himself for doing it, and so firm in his conviction that he HAS to do this, no matter what the cost to his soul) was done in such a way that the horror of it was okay for him to watch. If they'd treated it irreverantly, I would have had issues, but he appeared so utterly hateful of what he'd done that you can't help but think of how horrible this Rainmaker must become in the future.

Back at the farm, time is passing. Eventually, the kid blows up at Sister for all the lying, and the ground starts trembling and clouds start converging. We see the Sister run out of the room, terrified, into the closet of the master bedroom where there's a large safe that she crawls into and it's impied that this is not the first time. It's pretty clear to Joe at this point: this kid is The Rainmaker. But he can't bring himself to kill him, and decides to protect the kid from Bruce. HE's sure that, if properly taken care of, the kid'll be okay. See, the kid saw his parents get killed - this is a rumor that got around in the future, and Bruce knew it and told Joe it back in the diner. Earlier we heard this about the kid, and that got Joe suspicious. No doubts now though.

Other important scenes from here to the end culminate in 3 major things. First, a Gat Man shows up at the farm, investigating. Things are going along and Joe is almost clear until something clicks in the kid's mind and he's furious at the Gat Man (not Kid Blue btw). I'm not positive what it was, probably the Gat Man threatening Sister. The kid goes off - starts screaming, and the ground starts shaking until everything in the house starts lifting off the ground. He's going full off on the guy, and we don't quite see it as Sister and Joe get outside, but everything smashes to the ground, and they come inside to see everything coated in a layer of blood, the Gat Man nowhere to be seen. The kid literally exploded him. We've now seen the child potential of the Rainmaker, and we get a glimpse of what could happen in the future if the kid doesn't die - his utter hatred of killers unleashed upon all that oppose his crusade.
We learn that it turns out Sister is actually Mother. She'd abandoned the kid to her sister when she was young and had just given birth, but upon the death of her sister and the kid's pretend father, she returned. He just doesn't believe that she's his real mother as she keeps telling him. She also reveals that the kid (Cid! That was his name!) was the one who killed her sister with an accidental blast of power.

Another scene is Kid Blue had captured Bruce and had brought him to the organization headquarters - he wanted the recognition for it. With fury and skill, Bruce breaks free and he goes in and basically kills everyone, including the head. Through sheer fortune, Kid Blue doesn't die. His hatred for the Joes started as rivalry, escalated to seeing them as a chance to elevate himself, and is now out for pure rage.

By the end, Bruce is coming for Cid. He eliminated the other one (I think) and knows this is the last one. Joe is shot, and Mother and Cid are fleeing. Joe and Bruce already confronted each other (and Joe killed Kid Blue when he burst in), and Joe is shot. Bruce is shooting at Cid and misses a few times. His rage unloading, Cid yanks everything in the field up into the air, including Bruce. Mother talks Cid down from killing him though, and this is where Joe knows that as long as she's left alive, Cid won't turn out bad. Bruce, set down by the calmed Cid, begins advancing again, gun out. Joe, shot and stumbling, won't reach them in time to hit Bruce - he fires his blunderbuss, but he's far too far away. Seeing no other option, Joe picks up the blunderbuss again, and turns it up on himself and fires. Joe dies, and Bruce vanishes from existence. Mother and Cid, knowing where Joe's silver is (having been told about it) take it and go off to live their life and teach Cid control. We don't ever see the fate of the future.

And that's the plot! Holy crap, right? I'll just bullet point some comments now.
* This movie is, if nothing else, INTENSE. It feels real, nothing feels overdone or overblown or too movie-ish. The characters are real human people, and the movie is told in a powerful way. There really aren't any distinct bad guys without knowable and relatable motivations - even Kid Blue was only desperate for recognition.

* The makeup work Joseph Gordon-Levitt had done to make him resemble a young Bruce Willis? Fucking PERFECT. He looked absolutely natural, and absolutely a younger version of him. I couldn't tell which one was the modified one, but knew that they certainly looked the same.

* Morality is grey as hell in this movie. It was great.

* The open-endedness reminds me a touch of Inception's ending in that the ending of the movie hinged on a gamble, and we're never really told if the gamble actually pans out. This is a great thing.

* The movie made me think a lot. It was very well done in that way. Hopeufully it got you thinking too.

* The film work was spectacular. There must have been something done to the footage post-production, because the colors seemed a bit off in a cool way. I think it got grayed out a touch, and I like that look - it reminds me of some stuff done with actual film (the material, not the medium).

* I keep mentioning it so it's probably obvious, but god damn I love Kid Blue. The more I think of it, the more he reminds me of Revolver Ocelot. The dude behind him is pretty fascinating too.

* I should note that while the soundtrack is undistracting and generally good, there wasn't anything that had me anxious to go find and download it when I got home.

Basically, this is an extremely real-feeling sci-fi thanks to the characters driving it, and some of the best sci-fi, if not film, that's come out all year. I walked out of it stunned and impressed, and I've yet to be UNimpressed by some aspect of it. This review was almost all plot summary, and really I think that it stands on its own to be a fucking brilliant movie.
To note though, there are triggers that might keep you from enjoying it. It is INTENSE, there is a lot of moral ambiguity, and if violence to children really really sets you off of a movie and you just can't handle it, you'll be tripped up. It doesn't handle any of it irreverantly though - it knows its hitting touchy subjects and is careful in its handling of them.
In other words, this movie is a damn piece of art.
10/10 A. I simply cannot think of anything I would do different with this movie. Gold standard, and very possibly the film of the year for me.

End Recording,

No comments :

Post a Comment