We have to talk about Looper. It’s good isn’t it? It’s all right. It’s fresh. Isn’t it? Joseph Gordon Levitt is good, isn’t he? Great even, right? And Rian Johnson! Well– what hasn’t been said about Brick? We can all agree that Brick was great. Is great. Isn’t it?
Looper is difficult, because it’s simple. It presents the fan, the lover, with the same crisis of faith that The Master presented all October. When I say that Looper is wonderful, fresh, and good, what I mean to say is that if I, history-less and innocent, could wander out of the dark into a theater, and discover Looper fresh and raging across the screen: I’d have to sing about it. I’d have to sit down and write about its shining brilliance. I’d have to say that, within a loudmouthed niche-y sub-genre (the time-travel sci-fi) it represents a skillful dance between established form and unexpected pleasure. It represents more than we can hope for from the contemporary, commercial American sci-fi.
But no one who has seen Brick is innocent. Least of all: those among us who have watched it over and over, whenever the mood struck, for years. Least of all we, who have been intoxicated by its reclamation of times, places and (now famously) languages. Possibly the reclamation of that which has never been. A fever dream of retro-mania, the ultra-hip neo-noir that turned the crutch of irony into an unforgettable weapon– probably a steely Sam Spade-ian revolver. We have been seduced, our love consummated by repeated viewings, and we have waited patiently for Rian Johnson’s return to form. And this is no small thing: to have waited patiently through The Brothers Bloom.
This is how Looper finds itself the younger brother of the quarterback, the prom-king. But don’t take me too seriously, because even with expectations way, way down, even then Looper cannot fail to disappoint.
The hyper-eagerness to love, this, movie, has been palpable for- not months- but years. Looper has been graced everywhere with confidence. The fans have been confident. They have tempered their high expectations with passionate love. It didn’t hurt that, hey, the movie sounds great. Sci-fi sounds irresistibly fresh, from the man who brought us a (semi)low-budget neo-noir myth. New territory.
But Looper doesn’t know what it’s doing. Is it a fun jog through a lovable genre? Once again one has to wonder: at what point does a plot become about itself? At what point are twists being set up and deployed, however enthusiastically or abundantly, as obligations? So many filmmakers, even the greats (apparently) have lost touch with audience pleasure. Not even Hollywood can deliver a solid summer-fun film. In the superhero film, everything now exists as a chore, an obligation, a nod. To pretty women. To the sounds of metal breaking metal. To weapons. To power.
Looper doesn’t know why it wants to possess its twists, to lean into its turns, it just takes it for granted that a twist will be good here. This type-of-scene will look nice over here. But what are we being set up for? It’s all garnish, with so little meat. What is the pay-off of this farm-house, this mis-placed Emily Blunt, acting so earnestly? Surely the house will come under fire in some epic siege, requiring the brawn and quick-thinking of our loveable heroes (and new heroine.)
Surely there’s a reason we have known Paul Dano? Surely there is a bigger fish somewhere, more menacing than Noah Segan’s ineffectual half-villain? Surely there will be a climax beyond this one, which offers neither shocking austerity nor cathartic, action-packed excess?
Maybe next time.