The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Most movies these days are about story arcs. You know what the arc is going to be before you even walk through the door. In fact, more often than not, the arc is specifically what you're paying for. Romantic comedies show people falling in love, overcoming obstacles, and eventually winding up together. Horror movies have people facing threats and getting killed, save for those one or two lucky ducks who somehow survive. Superhero adventures usually tell origin stories and/or have the hero face off against a powerful villain; in the end, the good guy manages to pull ahead and win. There's nothing inherently wrong with these arcs, but it's definitely a rare treat to find a movie that completely surprises you from minute to minute. Rian Johnson's Looper is just such a rarity.

The story is set in the future. When the mob wants to eliminate someone, they send that person thirty years back in time, where assassins known as “loopers” finish them off and dispose of the bodies. (It's hard to prove a murder when the body was destroyed three decades ago.) Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays one such looper, Joe, who enjoys drugs and high-priced hookers when he's not shooting citizens of 2072 in the head. I will tread lightly on plot details here, only telling you that Joe is assigned to kill his future self (played by Bruce Willis) but is overpowered during the attempted assassination. This sets in motion a chain of events in which he discovers that Future Joe has a few things he wants to accomplish in his past. Realizing he must follow through with his orders, Joe begins chasing after the older version of himself. The chase leads to a farm owned by single mother Sara (Emily Blunt), a woman whose destiny is inextricably linked with that of the two Joes.

Good time travel movies always have that quality of making your head spin as you try to keep track of the quandaries presented. Looper is no different. There is great fun in imagining a guy hired to kill his future self, and the film does some very clever things with the premise. Changing the world – or at least one's place in it – is a major factor in most pictures in this genre. Oftentimes, doing that involves a character shifting fate, either by altering his/her environment or by changing another person. While that last thing does play a part, Looper is so compelling because it's about a man literally at war with himself. Present Joe wants to carry out his mission, collect his money, and live out the next thirty years of his life. It's what he signed up for. Future Joe, on the other hand, has seen how that life plays out. He wants to tweak the past to set up his later years the way he would like them to be. Present Joe's goal makes things tough for Future Joe. Future Joe's goal makes life difficult for Present Joe. In many respects, the movie is about youth vs. maturity. What we want in our twenties doesn't always square with what we want in our fifties, and we look back at ourselves with little patience for unformed ideals. Watching that play out in a fictional story makes for really engaging entertainment.

Armed with a unique concept, Johnson proceeds to make highly unpredictable choices in his shooting and his editing that keep you off guard. He frames shots and stages action in mysterious ways that briefly withhold their meaning, then suddenly snaps them into place. He introduces dramatic developments where you don't expect them, or abruptly cuts away from significant events when you aren't anticipating it. He shuffles back and forth between time frames and locations. He employes both flashbacks and flash-forwards. From one minute to the next, I had no clue where Looper was going to take me. And I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. A lot of work goes into keeping an audience on its toes. Hooking them with a good story is one thing; making sure they can't predict where that story will lead is something else altogether. Johnson has a whole bunch of tricks up his sleeve, and it's delightful to have him continually surprise us.

To be honest, Looper occasionally feels like it's biting off more than it can chew. At times, there's layer upon layer of stuff going on, to the point where I wondered how much more could be piled on. I also think some of the visual effects involving a jet cycle are stunningly fake-looking; they momentarily took me out of the film. These minor quibbles are just that, though – minor. Looper boasts terrific performances for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, in addition to a thoroughly original spin on the time travel paradox. Best of all, it is a movie that keeps you mentally hopping, daring you to guess where it is headed, then cheerfully pulling the rug out from under you each time.

( 1/2 out of four)

Looper is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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