The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


October 8, 2012

Benji Tunnell: Director true star in time-traveling ‘Looper’

JOPLIN, Mo. — Only three features in, Rian Johnson is fast establishing himself as one of the most dependable filmmakers working today. His latest, “Looper,” shows that he is continuing to grow as an artist.

At first glance, “Looper” looks like one of so many science fiction/time travel hybrids. In a not-so-distant dystopian future, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper, or paid assassin. The people he is contracted to kill are those transported from a slightly more distant dystopian future.

It seems that killing and disposing of the unwanted has become a little cumbersome, so the undesirables are transported back in time, where the looper waits and finishes them off with his blunderbuss. After each kill, the looper disposes of the body, then awaits his next charge.

There comes a point in each looper’s career where he must close his loop, or execute his future self. It is a lucrative kill, giving enough money to set the former assassin on the path to retirement. But when Joe’s future self is sent back for execution, Joe muffs the job, leaving old Joe (Bruce Willis) running free, trying to alter the course of the future by tracking down a despotic dictator well before he can assume power.

Joe’s boss (Jeff Daniels) doesn’t take too kindly to loopers failing to close their loops, so young Joe must evade his own death sentence while trying to finish the job he had been paid to do with old Joe.

What keeps “Looper” from being yet another generic sci-fi film is the intelligence behind Johnson’s script.

So many of these types of films trip themselves up over time travel logic, sometimes in minor ways, sometimes in ways that render the film utter nonsense (Men in Black 3).

Johnson has so carefully crafted his film that there is logic to every plot point and justification (and more importantly, a consequence) for every move that old Joe makes in his past.

In addition, Johnson does a wonderful job of pitting the young killer against his older self, each working toward their own purpose, and each man’s driving motivation conflicting with that of the other. It is a brilliant way of pitting self against self, and just about every contingency is well thought out.

The only sticking point in the movie is the end, which could have completely negated the plot of the film. But the journey getting to that point is so rewarding, and the ending so powerful, that the viewer is able to forgive what seems to be the only snag in the film.

Gordon-Levitt, wearing a prosthetic chin and wig to more closely approximate the actor portraying his older self, has far distanced himself from so many of the child actors who have tried to transition to more adult roles.

The first time he caught my attention in a more mature role was in Johnson’s first film, “Brick,” an amazing modern day film noir that required Gordon-Levitt to navigate tricky boilerplate dialogue without making it seem ridiculous. This time around, he must not only portray a character, but he must also approximate the actor playing his older self.

He captures the cocky arrogance, steely squint, sly smirk and unique speech pattern that Willis has carried throughout his film career. But he does so while still making Joe unique Ñ a harsh yet sympathetic man who has a heart in a career where such a thing is a liability.

Willis seems to have long ago decided that as long as the paycheck cashed, it mattered little what he starred in. Aside from the occasional spark of inspiration in films such as “Red,” he has relegated himself to cookie cutter action and drama films that do little to challenge him. But he has shown that when paired with the right-up-and-coming director (Quentin Tarantino in “Pulp Fiction,” M. Night Shyamalan in “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”), he can be reinvigorated, and Johnson does precisely that with Willis this time out.

Willis does an excellent job portraying the flip side to Gordon-Levitt’s coin Ñ the much older yin to his yang. After seeing him phone in his performance in “Expendables 2” this summer, it was refreshing to see a glimpse of the Willis of old.

But the true star of the film never appears on camera, as Johnson continues to prove that he is no fluke. Able to craft tricky, extraordinarily complicated scripts such as “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom,” and realizing them behind the camera as the director, Johnson has defined himself as a voice to be reckoned with Ñ an auteur in a world of hacks and wannabes.

“Looper” is a winningly creative twist on what now feels like a well-worn genre, and Johnson just continues to show improvement.

Text Only
  • Wichita.jpg Going Western: Indie film 'Wichita' to show tonight at MSSU

    Nicholas Burton isn't exactly raising a cash cow on his livestock ranch. But the Wichita, Kan.-based filmmaker has an advantage over other film producers: Westerns are in high demand, and he's in the perfect spot to make them.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 041114_pajama game.jpg Love, labor liven up JHS musical 'Pajama Game'

    The spring musical put on by the Joplin High School Theatre Department deals with a labor of love among a labor dispute.

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • MSSU choir, orchestra combines for performance of legendary 'Carmina Burana'

    The free performance is a joint effort between the Southern Symphonic Chorus, which is composed of the MSSU Concert Chorale and volunteer singers, and the orchestra, which is made up of Missouri Southern students, faculty and professionals from the community.

    April 11, 2014

  • 1520face.JPG Globe Phone Test: Nokia Lumia 1520's outstanding camera offset by frustrating OS

    On Monday, news broke that flight attendants aboard Delta Airlines flights would receive Nokia Lumia 1520 devices in October. The devices will have flight manuals, support on-board sales, allow attendants to process credit card payments and crapcan heavy 500-page manuals they used have to bring.

    The move is similar to how American Airlines attendants were give Galaxy Note phablets. Because Delta already gave attendants similar smartphones, it's reasonable to assume that the company places a lot of faith in the Windows Phone system.

    But Delta's choice of device is puzzling because the 1520 is better suited to take photos and videos of people on board an airplane, not take their drink and meal orders. And because the device is so big, I'm not sure how flight attendants would feel carrying it around in a cramped flight.


    As the iOS and Android systems struggle for the top smartphone operating system, Microsoft's Windows Phone has scratched its way into the No. 3 spot, pushing past BlackBerry. Nokia, once one of the top names in devices, is pairing with Microsoft to make a device that features an incredible camera. The company already made the Lumia 1020, which features a humongous 41-megapixel camera that does amazing things.

    The Lumia 1520 is its biggest offering to date. The device, available exclusively from AT&T, is one of the biggest phablet-style phones on the market today. For about 10 days, I tested out a black-colored device provided by AT&T.


    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jermiah-Tucker-020812.jpg Jeremiah Tucker: Kurt Cobain likely would have thrived in today's music scene

    I have no memory of the day he died. A friend asked me about this recently, and I said at that age -- I would've been 13 -- I was probably still rocking my cassingle of the Escape Club's "Wild Wild West." Needless to say, my middle school years were rough.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • images_sizedimage_108172906 Benji Tunnell: 'Winter Soldier' sets a high bar for summer movie season

    If a film was truly great, it would be held until June or July. Or so the thinking might have been before the release last week of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Marta-mug.jpg Marta Churchwell: Joplin mural part of Benton's larger message

    Recently, I received information on Joplin's celebration of one of its native sons, Thomas Hart Benton. In observance of the artist's 125th birthday, City Hall will host a collection of his works alongside his mural that honors Joplin history.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 040814 Worldfest.jpg World Fest pairs well with Celebrate America

    The Slinkerds think Silver Dollar City's World Fest is a great opportunity to show their young children other cultures and introduce them to people from around the world.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ka-Pow! New attraction offers free-fall plunge

    On May 17, two brave souls willing to whether mid-May¹s unpredictable weather will climb into the two drop-floor aqua-launch capsules atop KaPau Plummet.

    April 11, 2014 1 Slideshow

  • Jermiah-Tucker-020812.jpg Jeremiah Tucker: Letterman performance gives deserved boost to Future Islands

    It's hard to believe an appearance on a late-night talk show can still make a band's career. It's such a common occurrence and the cultural currency of the late-night format has dropped so much in recent years that, short of literally setting the stage ablaze or stabbing the host, the most a band could hope for is a couple of polite blog notices.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo