Rian Johnson was 1-for-2 in my book coming into Looper. I loved the bold genre cross-up of Brick, but thought that The Brothers Bloom was too stylized and light for its own good. Post neo-noir and heist, Johnson returns (after a few excellent episodes of Breaking Bad) with his third genre picture, Looper.
Looper is being pitched as complicated, but it really adheres to any basic time travel narrative. Loopers (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the common phraseology sci-fi nerds, myself included, use to describe time travel structure) are assassins in the past who are paid by a future mob to dispose of bodies. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper whose loop is about to be closed. Meaning, he’s about to have to kill himself (Bruce Willis) and put a definite clock on the remainder of his life. The problem is that future Joe has found love and happiness and doesn’t want to die.
The first act of Looper is truly awesome. Gordon-Levitt does his best Bruce Willis imitation – tight smile, one eye lower than the other – and pulls it off hilariously. But it’s Johnson’s direction and script that really sings in the first 30 minutes. There are some awesome set pieces that suppose what communication between two selves existing in the same time might look like, and some nice repetitious action told from different vantage points.
Like any time travel film, the fun here isn’t necessarily in how we travel (really, what was the last film to make that interesting? Even Primer had better stuff going on than the science involved), but what happens when we travel, how a change in past can change the future (one of the alltime great Simpsons lines comes to mind: “Remember the advice your dad gave you on your wedding day. ‘If you ever go back in time, don’t step on anything.'”), and how we unexpectedly change.
The second and third acts in Looper aren’t anywhere close to bad. In fact, they’re both still really fun. The problem is that Johnson basically abandons his time travel notions to make the film a manhunt featuring a Damien-like little kid named Cid (Pierce Gagnon). Cid’s various angry close-ups are too many and too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Even when he does some pretty intense stuff to the underrated Garret Dillahunt it all comes across as another one of those demon children up to no good.
Though Johnson gets some great mileage out of the manhunt structure (there’s a breathtaking crosscut as present-Joe encounters Cid and future-Joe tries to track down a separate character where the action moves back and forth so swiftly that it’s like two poets finishing one another’s sentences), it’s a bit of a disappointment to leave such interesting premises behind for the ‘save the future by means of the past’ middle and latter end of the film.
Johnson’s style is still bright and flashy. Looper features a whole mess of horizontal, blue flares, and extreme inflected angles that sometimes verge on the student-film-type, but almost always manage to succeed. It’s hard to see Johnson’s cinema as revisionist (as some have claimed) or really anything besides solid original material that pays homage to its predecessors without many direct visual references. He’s a refreshing voice in the studio system, even when he slightly misses the mark.
The Blindside in this post is neither the recent Sandra Bullock vehicle nor directed by David Lynch. Instead, it’s a small thriller directed by Paul Lynch and feature, among others, Harvey Keitel.
Keitel plays Penfield Gruber, a quiet, sleazy-ish motel owner who is unwittingly caught up in a blackmail and murder plot.
Blindside is certainly aware of De Palma’s Body Double from 1984. Check out the two posters. Lynch’s reads like a cheap knock-off:
It shows that Lynch isn’t nearly the director that De Palma is. His bad 80s synth score (apologies to Paul Zaza who, it should be noted, also scored Porky’s, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine and A Christmas Story) does little for the suspense.
Keitel’s character arc isn’t terrible. He’s got a past that comes up time and again, and there’s a relatively haunting moment where he watches and rewatches a video tape of his wife, but Lynch’s direction really brings everything down a peg.
The villains are all one-note stereotypes and much of the film looks “made for TV” in its unimaginative composition and too-fast, clumsy pacing.
There’s one nice visual moment as Keitel spies on a meeting of the minds at a deserted gas station:
For once, Lynch’s framing feels focused. The near-spotlight effect, the nice splash of red, and the general loneliness of this pump fits the mood that I think Lynch wants. This scene is unfortunately undercut by some pretty weak acting.
It’s hard to pin down what Lynch wants. Is this a parody of crime films? A dramatic film in the voyeuristic vein (The Conversation, Blow Up, Blue Velvet)? A despondent romantic thriller?