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Mr. Beaks Gets An Early Look At Rian Johnson's LOOPER!

Rian Johnson's LOOPER is a time travel film set some thirty years in the future before time travel has been invented. The title refers to hit men who've been contracted by gangsters thirty years off in the more distant future - where time travel, while banned, exists - to dispose of people where no one would possibly know to look for them. Basically, the loopers hang out in an inconspicuous location (a back alley, a field out in the country), wait for their bound-and-hooded quarry, and blast them with a blunderbuss the second they materialize. It's a split-second execution, after which the loopers retrieve silver taped to the back of their victims. This is their compensation. If the victim arrives strapped with gold bars, that means the looper has just offed his future self. This is the closing of the loop. Retirement. Commence thirty years of partying until their dying day.

But what happens if there's a moment's hesitation, and the looper somehow senses he's about to end his own life thirty years hence? Or, in the case of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), what happens if his older self (Bruce Willis) turns up with a plan to thwart his execution so he can run off and rummage through his past for personal reasons, thus jeopardizing young Joe's hard-earned retirement?

This is the clever central conflict of LOOPER: two versions of the same man - separated by thirty years - at odds with himself over his future. It's a rather heady quandary, but it's examined in the mainstream-skewing framework of a crackerjack sci-fi/action flick that recalls the genre-blending daring of the '70s and '80s. And it's not just a time travel movie. Just when LOOPER seems to be settling into one type of film, it veers off in another direction, then settles down again, then goes absolutely bonkers without sacrificing clarity of story or theme. This is masterful filmmaking - a stirring reminder that genre entertainment can be both smart and accessible.

The future world presented in LOOPER is dystopian, but this is only a problem for the have-nots. The loopers have, and they while away their non-killing hours hitting clubs, getting fucked up, and stashing away as much of their blood money as possible without running afoul of the Gat Men. Clad in black, armed to the teeth, and overseen by a mysterious man from the future (a wonderfully casual Jeff Daniels), the Gat Men police the loopers. They're the elite squad that gets called in when a looper neglects to murder his future self - and they are brutally efficient at using the younger looper to bring in the fugitive elder.

Joe doesn't seem the type to make this kind of mistake. He zips around in a vintage sports car, carries on with a hot-to-trot showgirl (Piper Perabo), and maintains an amicable relationship with the head of the looper program. But when one of Joe's twitchier colleagues (Paul Dano) shows up at his doorstep seeking shelter after failing to close his loop, he succumbs to a weakness of loyalty and hides the doomed bastard. This draws the heat of the Gat Men (including the hapless-but-dogged Kid Blue, played with hilariously psychotic zeal by Noah Segan), which plants the seed of doubt and knocks Joe off the easy-retirement path. There's decency lurking in this killer, the kind a good woman can tease out under the right circumstances.

But this is no straightforward tale of redemption; once Johnson's established his world, he hurls nothing but wicked curveballs until the final scene. The plot described above encompasses only the first third of the film; the minute Willis shows up as old Joe, everything is knocked off kilter, resulting in multiple track-downs of very different targets. Ultimately, young Joe is forced to seek sanctuary in a remote farmhouse owned by Sara (Emily Blunt), who's fiercely protective of her precocious son Cid, while waiting for the Gat Men - or perhaps the vengeful older Joe - to turn up.

And this is where it sucks to be reviewing a film ten months out from release, because I'd love nothing more than to dig into the mindblowing complications that ensue. Without giving too much away, Johnson strays into another subgenre - one of my favorites - and nails it emphatically. And it's a completely organic shift, one that requires an emotionally conflicted performance from Blunt. She's sensational in this movie, balancing shoot-first survival instincts, maternal depression and long-suppressed desire. 

Surface-wise, the most shocking element of LOOPER might be the bold physiognomical transformation of Levitt. Via the magic of carefully-applied makeup, he's altered his appearance - with a notable flattening of the nose - to more closely resemble Willis. It's startling, but not distracting. And since Levitt has gone this extra mile, Willis sort of meets him in the middle by acquiring some of his performance tics (there's a great slow-motion scene where Willis approaches a woman with Levitt's convivial bearing). But Willis also recalls his sad, broken-down character from 12 MONKEYS; his Joe is a man who gave up a great deal, got right with the universe, and isn't terribly happy with what he received in the bargain. And Levitt's young Joe is a character in transition, struggling to take stock of the man he might become while unavoidably living in the moment.

LOOPER is an intricately structured story enlivened by Johnson's trademark wit and wounded romanticism. It's an invigorating, thrilling, ceaselessly inventive film, a miracle in an era of by-committee studio filmmaking. And while it's still months from being finished, barring any postproduction monkey business, it's already a great movie. I can't wait to discuss it in greater detail.

Faithfully submitted,

Mr. Beaks

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:12 p.m. CST

    First, and...

    by KyleG

    Sounds really cool.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:17 p.m. CST


    by bubbatwo420

    I met Rian a couple years ago when he was premiering The Brothers Bloom and can confirm he's the real deal. Been absolutely drooling for news of a trailer for this so I'm glad to see the test screening went well and things are moving along.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:18 p.m. CST

    I finally saw Brick

    by SiouxCitySarsaparilla

    Major disappointment. Most overrated film I ever saw.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:26 p.m. CST

    Sound confusing and garbage.

    by paint163

  • Levitt and Willis sound like a good match to me and I loved Brick.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:51 p.m. CST

    WTF?! Bound and hooded quarry?

    by impossibledreamers

    When I first heard of time travel hitman, I thought you hire someone to kill that person's past self so they won't be a problem in the future. The idea that you actually LOCATE, then bag a person for a quick execution and then ship them off, seems like a lotta' damn work. Here's an idea - FIRE THEM OFF INTO THE VASTLY FAR FUTURE! It won't cost you a damned dime.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:55 p.m. CST

    Rian Johnson = ticket sold.

    by ROBRAM89

    I would watch a movie about a dude taking a dump if it were written and directed by Johnson.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:58 p.m. CST

    Not gonna hit anything

    by Ray Garraty #47

    ...if you don't look at your target, Bruce.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 1:59 p.m. CST

    Well, I guess Beaks has hit his "One Post a Month" quota.

    by Josh Katz

    How does he earn a living on one post?

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 2:04 p.m. CST


    by Klytus_I.m_Bored

    A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 2:17 p.m. CST

    When Willis decides to actually act (just rewatched Pulp on Blu and forgot

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    what a natural performer he can be, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, etc.), the result can be very good.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 2:24 p.m. CST

    So hoping this will be great

    by Ciderman

    He was all kinds of awesome in RED, like the old Bladerunner magic he showed that there really is only one man we want to see with wisecracks and a semi-auto. Unfortunately we also got Cop Out and Surrogates, which sucked like nothing has ever sucked before, aside, perhaps, for Hudson Hawk... So, a sci-fi story, action all the way? Inception-stylie, Philip K Dick mind bending? Hope-frakking-so! That said, I was banking on the same from RepoMen last year and look how that turned out!

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 2:32 p.m. CST

    Yea - didn't care for Brick at all, but really enjoyed

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    Bloom, so he's one and one in my book.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 2:58 p.m. CST

    you did NOT just bad-mouth Hudson Hawk

    by coz

    Bruno was the BOMB in that, yo!

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 3:02 p.m. CST

    Any chance this will play at festivals beforehand?

    by Midnight Thud

    Hell, I'd off my future-self if it meant seeing this film early... That said, Rian... in the unlikely event you're reading any of these talkbacks... please consider curating another week of double features at the New Beverly, just like you did with BROTHERS BLOOM.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 3:10 p.m. CST

    I loved Brick

    by dukeroberts

    I've seen it 3 times. I liked The Brothers Bloom a lot. I loved the first 2/3 of it. This sounds extremely interesting and I will be there.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 3:11 p.m. CST

    I liked Brick alot

    by Billy_D_Williams

    I didn't care for Brothers Bloom at all Looking forward to this one though...

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 3:23 p.m. CST

    time travel? AGAIN?

    by KilliK

  • just sounds convoluted and contrived. As someone pointed out, why would you send the people back in time to be killed? If its about hiding bodies, why not kill them in the future and then send them back???

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 3:40 p.m. CST

    'Brick' was idiotic from beginning to end

    by SmokingRobot

    It made about as much sense as that movie with children as gangsters shooting marshmallow machine guns. Just stupid.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 4:02 p.m. CST

    Bad mouthing Bugsy Malone? For shame!

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    If you dont get 10 year olds dressed as gangster, driving pedal-powered old timee cars, and shooting Tommy guns full of custard, then you're soul is truly dead, smokingrobot. :( "Fat Sams, grand slam, Speak Easy!" PS. Brick rocked, JGL rocks, and I have high hopes for the rockageness of this.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 4:03 p.m. CST

    @ Brick haters

    by Lemure_v2

    Rewatch it when you hit puberty. Totally different film.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 4:19 p.m. CST


    by Anthony Torchia

    The Fairy-fucking-Godmother ... wait. Bruce is a great, flawed, movie star. I am thrilled he's got a great film in the can, he's more deserving than most :-)

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 4:26 p.m. CST

    rebel scum

    by Billy_D_Williams

    they dont kill them first in order to absolve themselves from being involved in their death. and they send them back because its a cool twist on the time travel genre...and their gangsters, they're not terribly bright people.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 4:53 p.m. CST

    Hugh Jackman and Clint Eastwood...

    by Christopher3

    Would have worked without any makeup.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 5:36 p.m. CST

    Johnson is a major talent, he could be the next Nolan.

    by Randy

    I'm serious, Brick is brilliant as hell, great writing, direction and everything, a true indie cult classic that shows potential. If this can become a major success, I feel he has a Christopher Nolan type career ahead.

  • Johnson is an inventive director who has the potential to really rise up a level. Levitt's going from strength to strength. This looks great. Now if we can just get Shane Carruth back behind the camera again…

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 5:41 p.m. CST

    Brick and Brothers Bloom

    by hitchhiker42

    Are easily two of the best films in the past years. Brick tops my best of movies of all time, I've seen it over 10 times at least, and the nuances of the performances are impeccable. I can't WAIT for this.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 5:51 p.m. CST


    by Jeff

    Goddamn, this film sounds like it could be great! Exactly the kind of hard-edged science fiction story I hope for, but almost never see in theaters. And Emily Blunt's in it to boot? (Smile) I'm so there.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 6:43 p.m. CST

    I heard Shane Carruth did some of the VFX for this movie

    by quicksilver80

    Primer was brilliant, whatever happened to his follow up "A Topiary"? The plot description for that project was totally bonkers.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 7:39 p.m. CST

    How is the futuristic stuff?

    by Winston Smith

    Is it a full vision future like Blade Runner or Minority Report, or is it more an In Time/Payback pseudo-future where the concept is really the only futuristic element of the story?

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 7:40 p.m. CST

    Payback = Paycheck

    by Winston Smith

    Whatever, you know what I mean guys.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 7:43 p.m. CST

    JGL ages into Bruce? I already don't buy it

    by mdk

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 7:49 p.m. CST

    There used to be a sub shop near here called Looper's

    by mdk

    Dude named it after his dog. Then the dog died and they hung his picture on the wall in memorium. Then the dude died and his son took over and moved the location into a strip mall across the street, then ran the place into the ground and went out of business so the place itself died. Now there's an empty, decaying building with an old "Looper's" sign on it and a Korean-owned nail shop in the strip mall across the street and I have to go to Jersey Mike's, which is way further from my office. So I guess it'd be cool if a Looper sub would materialize in my office once a week for 30 years

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 8:34 p.m. CST

    Guess someone isn't afraid of NDA's.

    by Randy_of_AFTimes

    Was at the screening last night as well. Audience reaction came off well, though laughing at unfinished VFX is lame. Needs to be tightened up, but the meat of the story is up there. Nice to see Rian Johnson took a higher budgeted movie with VFX with confidence. Its obvious that he used BLADE RUNNER as a template for his future; not copying it but the idea of retro things being new again. Made it to the after panel. Most people seemed to "get it" with not a great deal of confusion. Little worried about them talking about JGL and Willis as "good guy & bad guy" but I've heard worse from these type of panels. And is it just me or this movie is nearly ready to go, VFX wise? I could see this as a late spring release before AVENGERS or, barring that, mid-August. Sorry I missed you again, Mr. Beaks.

  • Nov. 9, 2011, 8:46 p.m. CST

    I want to read this script!

    by ImperialMarchFace

    It sounds so good. And I'm still confused by it as well. Anyone know where I can find the script?

  • Sending them into the far future could be much more interesting and actually makes sense. Or how about a one way ticket to a parallel universe? That would also make sense, but not going to the trouble to tie someone up and send them back in time just so some schmuck can shoot them. Way more complicated than would be worthwhile. Why not just fire said unwanted person into the Sun instead? Or use some grey goo nanotech to just eat up all traces of the murder victim. Also, why would a so called looper assassin agree to this whole thing knowing that one day they might end up killing their future self? And then there is some elaborate enforcement agency that polices the loopers? Why? Isn't the whole point supposed to be that a single guy or gal in the past would kill the person sent back as an easy way to get rid of said undesirable person? But then you bring some policing agency into the mix, and isn't it all just a big mess of overcomplication? And in this slick future world of only about 60 years from now, the mafia has access to time machines? I just don't buy that idea. This sounds like another Surrogates. A clever idea that has somehow managed to tie its own shoe laces together.

  • Gemini Man was the name of that script that was supposedly a hot spec floating around about five to ten years ago. I believe they were talking about having Clint Eastwood play the older version of an assassin that goes rogue or something, and the agency he works for clones a younger version of him to hunt down him down. I think there was talk about using CGI to de-age Clint for the younger version. christopher3's comment reminded me of that one. I could buy Hugh Jackman playing the younger version of Eastwood in a film like that.

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 3:40 a.m. CST

    Someone actually made a movie based on that shit?

    by cameron

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 3:56 a.m. CST

    yeah, count me in

    by goatboy500

    This sounds amazing, and the Nolan comparison was dead-on. Rian Johnson's a genius, anyone who disagrees should go to vimeo and watch his video for The Mountain Goats song 'Woke Up New'. It's low budget and incredible. This could be next years inception, by which i mean a smart, original yet commercial Hollywood studio film. We kinda... need more of those.

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 7:40 a.m. CST


    by phifty2

    The story of a young man who jumps ship in Hong Kong and makes his way to Tibet...

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 9:58 a.m. CST

    LV, dead on the money. The concept is over-thought but not thought through

    by impossibledreamers

    I feel like someone had the idea for a time-travel hit man, but then tried to cover all possible complications by adding more and more restrictions or angles. When you come up with an elaborate deal like this, you have to think not only the how's but the whys or the why nots. But, you're right - why consider the possiblity of whacking your future self? Are the assassins working for criminals? So why would there be Gat Men? It sounds like there's little effort in the future to hide criminal murder. So, why send people anywhere in time at all? Especially if you can actually lay hands on them and cap'em the old fashioned way. Making someone disappear at the point they begin to cause trouble makes more sense to me. Say some guys skimming your profits. You send back a message to your hitter to whack this guy about the time he starts stealing from you.

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 10:58 a.m. CST

    If this movie gives Shane Carruth some dough it'll be worth it

    by melonman

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 12:11 p.m. CST

    How dare they film this with Gilda Radner gone for years..

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    ..oh wait..that's LOOPNER...

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 2:59 p.m. CST

    Illogical time-travel shenanigans

    by buggerbugger

    Uh... what? In order to hide the dead bodies of people they want assassinated, gangsters send the living victims 30 years into the past to get executed. When the victim goes missing in the 'present', nobody will be able to find the body, because it's been buried somewhere 30 years in the past? Um... anyone else see flaws in this cunning plan? Like... multiple fucking bodies buried everywhere, because one day, '30 years ago' will be 'today'? You can't hide dead bodies in the past, you just... bury the fucking things for longer and increase the chances that someone will stumble upon them and notify the authorities. And what about the dead bodies from 30 years ago that are discovered **before** the victims are kidnapped and hurled into the past in the first place? Won't they get a heads-up that they're going to get murdered at some point with the aid of time-travel technology and up their security, etc.?

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 3:18 p.m. CST

    Welcome to my world, Scratchmonkey...

    by impossibledreamers

    Which is why LV and I think they need to dump bodies into the future. You think they thought up this idea while hittin' the bong?

  • A trio of stoners take a few to many hits from a magical bong that sends them back in time.

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 4:45 p.m. CST

    people in the future never watched

    by JAMF

    breaking bad and learned how to dissolve a body in acid. also, bruce is typical white. jgl almost looks kinda chinese. wah?!

  • Nov. 10, 2011, 4:46 p.m. CST

    @ vameon

    by Bruce Thomas Wayne

    Completely agree. He's been my choice to take Batman over after Nolan since Brick. Brother's Bloom only convinced me more.

  • I figured a cool futuristic sci-fi twist on that method of disposing of a body would be to use some nanobots to eat up the body.

  • The poor people in the parallel universe that the bodies are being dumped in might be walking down the street minding their own business, and then suddenly they see a flash in the sky, and a bunch of dead bodies start raining down and smashing into the ground. Then the police show up and none of these dead bodies from the sky can be identified, because they aren't from this universe, and they never existed in this particular universe either.

  • Poop Loop it shall be called.

  • Nov. 11, 2011, 7:34 p.m. CST

    damn, I thought this was for The Goon

    by deelzbub


  • Nov. 11, 2011, 8:59 p.m. CST

    Brick and Bloom are among the best films of the last decade

    by JacksParasites

    Suffice it to say, I'll see any Rian Johnson film.

  • Nov. 13, 2011, 7:53 p.m. CST

    when does the trailer hit

    by Waka_Flocka

  • Nov. 13, 2011, 8:36 p.m. CST

    I Also Love, Love, Loved Brick

    by Crow3711

    Wasn't as huge a fan of Bloom myself, but it certainly wasn't bad or anything. I think I just over hyper it to myself and it ended up being a bit of a disappointment. But Brick buys my ticket to any Rian Johnson movie for pretty much the rest of his career. Brilliant flick

  • Nov. 19, 2011, 8:53 p.m. CST

    openthepodbaydoorshal ... Willis

    by MurderMostFowl

    Don't forget 12 Monkeys. He did a fine job in that movie as well. Hey... that's a Time travel movie where he meets himself 30 some odd years apart.... interesting

  • Nov. 20, 2011, 4:51 p.m. CST

    how did I miss this article?

    by Bass Ackwards

    Beaks you lucky son of a bitch! I skimmed the article because I want to avoid knowing too much about the film, so sorry if this is addressed in the article itself, but how is it you scored a look at the film almost a year in advance?!

  • Nov. 21, 2011, 8:14 a.m. CST

    LMAO! For those that didn't like Brick ...

    by The Bicycle Sharer

    Congrats on making Breaking Dawn such a big hit this weekend. You must be so proud.

  • or expecting too much in the run up. But Brick and Brothers Bloom are fantastic films.