Rian Johnson burned a quick mark into the indie-film landscape when his writing-directing debut, the high school noir “Brick,” had its premiere at Sundance in 2005. After fielding a special jury prize for his “originality of vision” and then several Independent Spirit nominations, Johnson took his follow-up, “The Brothers Bloom,” to Toronto in 2008. Upon release the following year, “Bloom” disappeared without much of an audience, primarily because, despite their visual flair, Johnson’s works thus far have been hard to classify.
He seems to have solved that problem with his latest, “Looper.” Or has he? Is the time-travel, dueling-hitman action film — starring Bruce Willis, no less — a straightforward grab for mainstream favor? It sure reads that way on paper (and looks that way in the trailer). But then, there are reasons to believe that may be just half the story.
“Looper” does also star Johnson’s “Brick” lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has since become an indie-film innovator able to maintain his cred even when showing up in studio blockbusters. And the film is science fiction, a genre, as Johnson points out below, that lends itself not just to aesthetic flights of fancy but also to bigger ideas and, should a filmmaker wish to indulge (hello, Terry Gilliam), truly idiosyncratic storytelling.
Which may be why FilmDistrict pushed it for the opening-night film slot of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. “Looper” has stars big enough to justify a flashy red carpet and a plot that appeals to the masses, but, behind it, there’s a filmmaker with an original voice and festival bona fides. Johnson spoke to Indiewire not long after the fest announcement about how the festival world has changed since “Brick,” his ambitions in making the film and whether Willis’ bare ass has a role in it.
Congratulations on the Toronto slot. Are you finished with the film, or do you still have a few things to finish up on it?
We’ve been finished for months now. I haven’t seen the movie in, like, three months, it’s very strange. It’s nice, actually, to have some distance from it before going out with it. There’s something nice about that, but at the same time it can’t come fast enough.
Does that window open up the temptation to tinker?
Oh, yeah it does, but you know that’s saved by a movie that’s locked. It would be very expensive to go back into it, and I’m supposed to be writing the next one. See, I’m fundamentally a lazy person. It’s finished, I’m just gonna sit back and have lunch.
When you say you’re working on a new one, you’re working on a new original screenplay?
Yeah, I’m writing something right now, kind of in the early stages of working it out. Which is strange doing that before this one comes out, when you’re still in the process of putting it out there, but it’s just a matter of time to buffer yourself from that as much as you can and get your head in the right space.
It’s not tied to “Looper,” right?
No, no. It’s a new thing.