Editor’s note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. Here, AP film critic Christy Lemire and USA Today's Claudia Puig discuss Rian Johnson's "Looper" and the unique career trajectory of its star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The movie opens Friday.
LEMIRE: I need to go back and re-watch "Brick." I will readily admit that. I really admired the ambition of it. I thought it was so different from anything else out there. I loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt in it, but I thought it was so structured and self-conscious that it kept you at arm's length. I should revisit it. I thought "Looper" was his best film yet in terms of scope, concept and the cast. I loved "Looper," and it does makes me want to go back and look at "Brick."
Claudia, you were a bigger fan of "Brick" and "Brothers Bloom," so you have less reevaluation to do.
PUIG: Based on those two movies, I was so looking forward to this one, because I've actually seen "Brothers Bloom" three or four times. It's one of my favorite movies and it went totally under the radar for most people. I really liked "Brick," mostly because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Christy, I see what you're saying about the style that keeps you at an arm's length with a kind of self-conscious approach. At the same time, I really liked what he was doing with this noir film set in high school.
I liked "Looper" at a lot, too. To me, there's a through-line: He's definitely getting more ambitious. Like "Brothers Bloom," I think this has an uplifting message, even though it's a dystopian science fiction movie. I think the second half of the movie has a message that's markedly different in a way from the first half of the movie. There's a point where the whole thing involves Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and this little boy. I think that mitigates some of the more dystopian action aspects that may lack some humanism. There's a whole lot of humanism in the second section, which is ultimately why it worked even better for me than I expected.
In my own review, I found the shift into the second half of the movie to be somewhat problematic, or at least jarring, because it's so fundamentally different from the first half. In some ways, it's an entirely different movie. Christy, you were telling me earlier that you actually liked that.
LEMIRE: I was impressed with the way it kept changing. It incorporates a lot of different genres and has a lot of points of reference. At one point, it's a wild west shootout. At another point, it's "The Terminator." There's a lot of stuff going on, but it stays true to the characters. Because it goes to this softer and quieter place, it really does allow us to care about these people and the difficult decisions they have to make and the fates that await them in a way that most cold, slick sci-fi movies might not.
PUIG: I agree. I think I liked the second half a little bit more because the first part was more interesting to me intellectually but wasn't engaging me on a more emotional level. When it switched to what you rightly call a different movie, it allowed me to care more about everybody. I liked the concept of loopers but wasn't caring as much until the second half. I do find that there are questions about the specifics of the looping process still rolling around in my head. There are still some logistical questions I'm working through, but that's okay.
LEMIRE: That's what's fun about a time travel movie, having a conversation with your friends afterwards to figure out if all the cogs in the machinery work. For the most part, I think they do, and I don't want to ruin things, but there are a few parts I still have questions about: "If so-and-so is doing this, why is this happening?"