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TIFF REVIEW: Opening Nighter ‘Looper ‘ Delivers Sci-Fi Thrills– and Depth

TIFF REVIEW: Opening Nighter 'Looper ' Delivers Sci-Fi Thrills-- and Depth

You can throw out the old canard that you can usually skip the opening night film in Toronto. That’s because the fest has wriggled free of having to book the latest tasteful film by a respected Canadian auteur. And Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is a must-see hardboiled thriller for any cinephile–let’s hope the good folks in Roy Thomson Hall can handle the bone-crunching violence.

The writer-director concocted this sharp-edged dystopian time-travel movie with a central conceit that had to work on film: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who starred in Johnson’s “Brick”) is playing the young Bruce Willis. It’s far-fetched, but with the help of a lip prosthesis, you buy it. There’s a thrilling moment when the two men meet at a diner–the wiser tough guy who knows what’s ahead, and the younger, slimmer man who has no respect for that knowledge. He’s going to write his own future.

The rules of efficient killing across past and future time zones are laid out efficiently without wasting screen time. Like Joss Whedon, Johnson is a gifted writer with an instinct for amusing us; he tells us what we need to know, sets up his characters, delivers witty and entertaining dialogue, and actually surprises us in the third act with a twisty mind-bending denouement that turns the movie from a straight-ahead sci-fi entertainment into something deeper. The ending is satsifying; I want to see the movie again.

Gordon-Levitt holds his own with Willis, half impersonating him, and you root for both of their characters to survive. Gordon-Levitt isn’t a marquee star yet, but he is steadily buliding solid cred with movie audiences. Halfway through the film we meet Emily Blunt as a strong, rifle-toting, loving single mother isolated in the country corn fields–for a reason. Blunt anchors the movie and delivers that extra dimension that elevates a programmer into a classic. Thus “Looper” becomes a three-hander, and the TIFF folks knew what they were doing booking it for opening night. The audience may be gripping their chairs during the movie. But they will walk out happy.

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