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Time-Travel Thriller Looper Should Make Its Director a Hollywood Player

What’s great about the film is how many crazy angles of conflict it devises: Joe is being chased by a fellow looper, and both of them are trying to terminate old Joe, though young Joe, as you might expect, is also curious to hear from old Joe some advice about what’s going to happen in the future. And in the second half, the tension gets another boost when Johnson brings in a tough young woman (England’s Emily Blunt, who is surprisingly convincing as a no-nonsense frontier woman) who is looking after a small child who might, when he grows up, turn out to be the shadowy criminal mastermind known only as the Rainmaker. Old Joe wants to kill the boy because he might be the Rainmaker, but young Joe thinks saving the kid and changing his path might be possible.

Discussing the aspects of the story that don’t seem to add up would involve giving away too much, but even with these problematic aspects the movie is exciting, twisty, and vivid. Johnson, a young writer-director and hotshot whose previous low-budget films were Brick and The Brothers Bloom, has a fresh notion about bringing the feel of the hardboiled urban noir to the open spaces of the plains. The farmland looks as menacing here as it did in North by Northwest.

Johnson also writes smart, tough, darkly ironic dialogue, often delivered in a voiceover reminiscent of a Raymond Chandler movie (or of Blade Runner) that goes perfectly with the sense of a pitiless landscape. Young Joe says things like, “Now he runs the city. Any other city, that would be impressive.” His overseer, the Daniels character, tells him, “I cleaned you up and put a gun in your hand. I gave you something that was yours,” as though this was the greatest gift a father figure could give a young fella. When Daniels is asked whether he intends to kill another man, he says, “Not if we can help it.” It turns out that there isn’t a lot of sentimentality in the world of professional killers.

Engaging as all this cat-and-mousing is, and entertaining as the many gunfights are, the movie opens up into something bigger and bolder as it goes along, with a plot development that is perfectly set up by foreshadowing and yet is unexpected and potent. The dry self-awareness of Willis’s delivery (something the more earnest and anguished Gordon-Levitt would have done well to have imitated) goes a long way toward bringing some of the more fanciful elements down to earth, and the climax is an exciting payoff. Get used to the name Rian Johnson: This film is a major breakthrough that should make him a player in Hollywood.


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