For an independent auteur Looper may be a step in the wrong direction for filmmaker Rian Johnson. Since the release of Brick in 2005, a modern masterful noir, the talented director has become a standout in the industry for his technically proficient and visually impressive features. Alas, Looper is a narratively unfocused and unexplored mess – vacant of naturalistic elements that were meticulously developed in his previous efforts.
While there hasn’t been much evolution in Johnson’s storytelling techniques, the complexities of his scripts continue to expand. Set in 2042, the contemporary social structure has ostensibly become an unmitigated disaster. With people waging wars on each other and the government seemingly absent, the mobs appear to contain total control.
Hidden from the public, and markedly illegal, is the Looper program, of which Joe (our protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an intricate piece. This system, not wholly developed until 2072, allows those with money and power to get rid of anyone by sending them back 30 years and have them killed by well-compensated assassins. The rules? No matter the circumstance, don’t allow your target to survive.
Inevitably Joe, along with many of his colleagues, comes face to face with his future self (played by Bruce Willis), but when the job goes awry, a bounty is put over the heads of both present and future Joes as one is on the hunt for the other and the elder Joe searching for a solution to stay alive.
The driving force continuously working against Johnson’s screenplay is its lack of human emotion. Brick was filled with moral ambiguity and characters that expressed fear, sadness, and confusion. In this film we’re like our protagonists, longing for something never there. Looper is the motion picture equivalent to a beautifully imagined painting with no sense of purpose or motivation. Atmospheric as it may be, Johnson doesn’t paint a single character with more density than a thin piece of paper.
Extraneous subplots are needlessly scattered along the sluggish pacing. Mainly a deathly search to seek out who is dictating the future, a lovely (though unnecessary) Emily Blunt playing a strong-willed mother protecting her child from fate, and Joe’s paradise dream to move to France, all play a part in disrupting Johnson’s script.
At the center of the movie is “violence” says Johnson. There are the makings of a film about society’s perpetual behavior to blame others for our own self caused and provoked crimes, a theme that is touched upon perhaps more than they realised, but that’s quite an adequate reflection of how I felt throughout the entirety of Looper. Though very well made, its cold and distant tone, layered not with ideas to ruminate after the credits roll, but ambivalence towards palpable human feeling, is a disappointment from an ingenious and intelligent filmmaker that has proven himself several times before. Then again, I suppose we all occasionally suffer from misdirection.