Being a week behind the fall movie season, I finally got a chance to catch up with Looper this past weekend. I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly some of the time travel-related questions it raised as well as alternate timeline theory that was explained so perfectly in last year’s “Community” episode, “Remedial Chaos Theory.” While my friend and I covered these topics as well as the film’s many others in our post film discussion I began thinking about the future timeline of director Rian Johnson who’s first three movies followed a specific timeline that festival hopefuls dream of. As a quick recap, Johnson’s first three films include:
Brick (2005) – A High School/Film Noir hybrid that centers on loner Brendan, also played by Levitt, follows the trail left by the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. At this particular high school all the students speak like they’re in a Dashiell Hammett novel. This is the “Out of nowhere first film,” film.
The Brothers Bloom (2008) – Light-hearted heist caper about a team of two brothers, the stow-a-way, that the central brother develops an early crush on and a nearly silent demolitions expert that all rings of strong Wes Anderson influences. The film was by all accounts a box office failure, making just more than a quarter of it’s budget. This is the “Bigger budget indie that only fans of the first movie knew about.”
Looper (2012) – Sci-fi/crime movie about a hitman looking for meaning in a life that is pre-determined by his own profession. The “Bigger Budget, Bigger Star wide release.” Looper has already made back its budget and will likely more than double it.
Coming out of the release of Johnson’s third film, more specifically his third decent to great one, now is the time when critics and writers feel obligated to analyze his odds of becoming the next great blockbuster filmmaker a la Ridley Scott, early George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. Before you call me a Johnson fanboy who is over reacting to a genre movie that catered to his own bias towards time travel movies, remember we did the same for M. Night Shyamalan after his third movie.
Out of fear of being wrong in eight years, I’m not going to predict that Rian Johnson will become either the next Spielberg or the next Shyamalan but it isn’t out of the question that he become either. All three have made variations on genre pictures, which at their core, about men coming to terms with a very personal issue. Brody becomes a better father by killing a shark and Rev. Hess becomes a better father and a better Christian just as Brendan is able to find his role in clique-driven suburban high school.
Through their early career, all three filmmakers are also very much in control of the worlds they set up in their films. As more elements are introduced in something like Looper or Unbreakable (Shyamalan’s best upon repeated viewing) they never become convoluted.
The one contemporary I’m leaving out is J.J. Abrahms who, like any filmmaker born in the last 40 years, is also influenced by Spielberg to the point where he imitated his idol. The one difference between the two, it’s clear from the beginning that Abrahms is more interested in being a mogul rather than solely a director which based on all the interviews I’ve heard/read seems to be Johnsons’ chosen path.
Johnson also sticks out for personal reasons. Namely, his filmography spans from my senior year of high school through my mid 20s. Also, the comparisons between Spielberg and Shyamalan weren’t unfounded because his first three films allowed me to escape my adolesence to the feelings I had when I watched Spielberg and Lucas on video. Johnson’s films, to varying extents, do the same despite my growing cyncism and awareness of film and story elements which make escapism much more difficult.
Hopefully, that’s a sign Johnson won’t swing away and start staring in his own movies.
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