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Matthew Warchus on Rian Johnson’s ‘Looper’

Eye on the Oscars: The Director Preview

An enraged child’s eyes slowly shift their focus from his attacker — a man intent on revenge for the murder of his wife — until the love-filled face of his mother fills the frame. “It’s OK,” she whispers to the boy, “it’s all right.” Both adults are floating 20 feet in the air, amidst 10 thousand ears of corn, held there by the child’s anger-induced telekinesis (Matilda’s kindred soul!). The soundtrack shifts seamlessly from thundering cacophony to intense beauty, and I sit gazing at the screen gripped at the throat by huge emotion.

Like all great parables, Johnson’s superb “Looper” carries a radical message — a challenge in fact to every one of us concerning our simplistic judgments of “good” and “bad.” And it offers a biblical lesson in the healing power of unconditional love and the dangerous consequences of its absence. Using time travel as a background device to ingeniously probe themes of revenge and nature vs. nurture, the movie immerses us in a violent futuristic Kansas (“Blade Runner” meets Sam Shepard) where, ultimately, the professional killer protagonist has a stunning epiphany: “I saw a mother who would die for her son, and a man who would kill for his wife … I saw the path, and the path was a circle. So I decided to break it.”

The film is written and directed with exceptional intelligence and vision, and I love the way it manages to be both brilliantly populist and immensely wise. Every performance is flawless in a tremendous cast. It is filmmaking at its extraordinary best. A verbal and visual masterpiece.

Matthew Warchus, a Tony winner for “God of Carnage,” directs the new musical “Matilda,” to open on Broadway in April.

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