I love this guy. Always have. Even when he was playing Tommy Solomon in the kitschy sitcom Third Rock From the Sun, I thought the kid had tremendous talent. I’ve followed him through his whole movie career, blown away by his daring choices (Mysterious Skin, Brick) and charmed by his affable presence (as noted on SNL, in 500 Days of Summer). I just showcased 10 Things I Hate About You this week, my favorite teen comedy that happens to feature Gordon-Levitt at his most endearing.
Needless to say, Gordon-Levitt is hitting the big time these days. By a simple twist of fate, I had the pleasure of seeing three of his latest works in the span of a very short time. Sure, one of them sucked hairy monkey balls, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt still remains a force to be reckoned with.
**LOTS OF SPOILERS BELOW!**
In Premium Rush, Gordon-Levitt plays a New York City bike messenger who gets caught up in a bit of a kerfuffle. A valuable ticket needs to be messengered from uptown to downtown and there’s a shady cop (Michael Shannon) looking to retrieve it in order to settle his own gambling addiction. The plot is hackneyed and really corny (it involves the illegal transportation of an Asian kid across the sea) and the ticket only serves as a MacGuffin. It’s a plot device orchestrated for the mere purpose of filming a bunch of athletic people on a bike in Manhattan. It’s a good thing Koepp films these sequences with a sense of urgency and a great amount of humor. The film runs at a brisk 100 minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Shannon has his fun moments as the crooked cop with a crazy temper, but it’s really Gordon-Levitt’s show. He makes a convincing action star.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt also makes an interesting asshole, as personified in Hesher, an ugly drama about a broken family who gets a surprise when a homeless drifter crashes their house and wakes them up from their mournful stupor. This setup alone makes it so impossible to care about what happens in this film. I just cannot buy this sort of thing ever happening anywhere. Ever! He plays an obnoxious half-naked stoner with nuggets of wisdom (“You lost your wife. You lost your mom. I lost my nut.”) and this family just lets him hang around. I know they’ve suffered a terrible loss but neither of them were lobotomized and should still be able to avoid making ridiculously careless decisions.
Then there’s Natalie Portman popping up as a nerdy, simple young woman who connects with both the dopey kid as well the aggressively arrogant Hesher. Her character was introduced as a sort of major player in the beginning of the film but then became nothing more than just a plot device to drive the kid apart from Hesher during the third act, which the writers then knew they had to figure out a way for Hesher to make a grand exit so the family can be “whole” again.
I admire Gordon-Levitt’s complete metamorphosis here; he plays against type very well and shows tremendous range as an actor. It’s just a shame that the character is so poorly written (as is the rest of the film).
Now, when Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets involved with a great writer/director in a high concept thriller (see also: Inception), not surprisingly he fits right in. He’s fantastic and barely recognizable as young Joe, a selfish loner who gets paid a lot of money to kill people from the future. When his future self, old Joe (Bruce Willis), arrives to young Joe’s present to do some major course correction, young Joe is conflicted. Should he stop his future self from wreaking havoc with his life or trust his own future instincts?
Time travel is one of my favorite components in a story, whether it drives films (Back to the Future), TV shows (Lost) or novels (The Time Traveler’s Wife). I’ve always thrived on picking apart the complexities of such a fantastical concept. Looper is right up my alley. Rian Johnson has crafted a fresh, exciting tale that’s not just about time travel. It’s really a film about choices and how people change over time. There’s very little of actual traveling through time. Looper is a smart thriller where the bad guy gets killed off-screen; it’s not bound by the conventions of your average storytelling. Joe, in both incarnations, is a good person and a bad one. Young Joe tries to protect Emily Blunt’s kid; the older Joe – driven by a rageful vengeance – tries to kill him. It’s all heady, thoughtful stuff.
Back to Gordon-Levitt. The makeup is a distraction at first. But after several minutes, it was no longer an issue. I bought his character; Joseph Gordon-Levitt became Young Joe. I was completely sold on the fact that he and Bruce Willis were one and the same. Remember when Eric Stoltz donned that horrible face in Mask back in 1985? It’s the same visceral reaction: when it was over, I had to remind myself that I was watching Eric Stoltz. For Looper, Gordon-Levitt delivered a really beautiful, subtle performance here, another reminder that he’s one of his generation’s best actors.
Premium Rush: B-