By now, it's become self-evident that writer/director Rian Johnson isn't much interested in doing films "the Hollywood way" - strange, since he so obviously has a love and a feel for the codes of genre. Brick was a hardboiled crime thriller transplanted into a high school movie, The Brothers Bloom a screwball comedy turned upside down and posing as a dramatic heist movie. Now Looper, Mr. Johnson's first bona fide commercial success at the box-office, comes off as a dystopian sci-fi thriller but is in fact a tale of adult responsibility and owning up to your decisions.

     Borrowing liberally from The Terminator and La Jetée (both in its original Chris Marker creation and in Terry Gilliam's reimagining 12 Monkeys), Mr. Johnson creates a glorious mash-up of populist and art-house references that can only described, in Bruce Willis' words halfway through, as "a precise description of a fuzzy mechanism". And you can't get any more fuzzier in a story full of paradoxes, set in 2044, when a small cadre of men in an impoverished society divided between the have and the have-nots work as "loopers", contract killers for the mob of 2074, disposing of victims sent 30 years back in time. Sometimes the victim is the "looper"'s future self - and when the future self of hotshot Joe (a smartly against-type Bruce Willis) shows up, young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to eliminate him and the future begins changing slowly, as "old" Joe goes on the run trying to discover the real identity of the boy who will grow up to become a ruthless crime boss.

     Too much is going on in Looper for it to properly make sense on paper - some of it doesn't even quite make sense on screen either - but that is of no consequence, since Mr. Johnson keeps driving the film into tight corners he always gets out of by changing the playbook: by the time the telekinetic destructive powers a la Fury or Scanners come in, you've already understood why the director claims Peter Weir's Witness as a key influence. The miracle, however, lies in the manner Mr. Johnson writes into his film every single cliché of the genre movie while making it appear fresh in context. Some have already claimed Looper goes as deep into the rabbit hole as The Matrix did in its time, and while the claim is reasonably far-fetched, it is indeed something quite different from what Hollywood is now pushing out: something that moves close to delivering a studio-marketable film but retains all of its maker's identifiably quirky, offbeat personality (not to mention part of his usual crew and returning actors from Brick). Rian Johnson is no sellout and Looper is a gem.

Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Summer Qing, Jeff Daniels

Director/writer: Rian Johnson
Cinematography: Steve Yedlin (colour, digital intermediate by Efilm, Panavision widescreen)
Music: Nathan Johnson
Designer: Ed Verreaux
Costumes: Sharen Davis
Editor: Bob Ducsay
Visual effects: Karen Goulekas
Producers: Ram Bergman, James D. Stern (Ram Bergman Productions for Endgame Entertainment in association with DMG Entertainment and Filmnation Entertainment)
USA/China, 2012, 117 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon screening room (Lisbon), October 4th 2012


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