Movie Review – Looper
September 27, 2012 13 Comments
HA! I always knew that time itself was cyclical and not linear.
Well I mean at least this latest sci-fi offering from Writer and Director Rian Johnson (Brick and The Brothers Bloom) lays out the rules of time travel and those that use it. Looper is the third movie from Rian Johnson, a director who dabbles in straddling the creative line between brainy, think tank films and fun, creative twists on established genres. In Brick, he injected a dark, hard boiled noir thriller in the setting of a high school. The Brothers Bloom saw us following a playful and charming group of dapper looking grifters with a smart, sophisticated web of intrigue and cons. And now Looper dabbles with the temporal complexity of time traveling, paired with the slam bang action sequences that create this continuous loop of constant feedback and excitement.
Set in the not so distant future of 2044 in a place called Kansas (YES HOME STATE bitches!), Looper opens up with a slightly older looking Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a character named Joe. Joe calmly checks his watch out in the middle of a corn field, waiting for something to happen at a specific time. In a blink of an eye, a man appears and just as quickly as he arrives, he is dispatched with a blunderbuss. Joe retrieves some silver from the man and disposes of the body. We learn that Joe is part of a criminal organization that does the dirty work of disposing people for the mob using illegal time travel. No body, no ID, no mess, and no fuss. That is the job of a Looper. Eventually, the Loopers will one day have to close the loop, meaning they will have to kill their future self, lest the loop runaways. Joe eventually runs into his own self on an assassination, an older Joe played by Bruce Willis.
Failing to close his own loop, the older Joe gets away and sets out on his own mission to essentially ensure the safety of his future by seeking out a man known as The Rainmaker, one who is responsible for this onslaught of looper closings. Young Joe mess wrestle with a future version of himself and the consequences that arise from this meeting. He tries to stop the future Joe from completing his mission of killing The Rainmaker, while helping out Sara, a farmhand girl played by Emily Blunt and her young son.
It all sounds a bit confusing and it is for a little while. Rian Johnson lays out the rules of time traveling during a conversation between the future and present Joe’s, explaining the laws and what Loopers have to do with all this time traveling. It’s a complexity that should have collapsed on itself, making us dig deeper into what the use of time traveling should have on the physics of space and time, the paradoxes that arise from it and how our two Joe’s can exist in the same time and place. You know…the head scratching science shit that throws a wrench in movies that use time travel as a plot device. This is smartly laid out and then pushed aside, much like the younger Joe, we are concerned with only the future outcome of the plot, rather than focusing on the consequences. It’s a smart way to get us to think, but also weave in the time traveling aspect of the story, a sure fire way to get us just thinking enough about it while making it seem like a clever puzzle piece that eventually fits in the larger scheme of the film.
To get us to focus on something other than the properties of time traveling, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis occupy the same space and screen time in this film. They are both playing the same character, but with two wildly divergent personalities if you can believe. Young Joe is the brash, selfish young man who is disposable in this world of Loopers, thinking only of himself in the present time instead of truly looking out for his future. Levitt is phenomenal in his small, idiosyncrasies in portraying an older version of himself played by Bruce Willis. The makeup ages the actor slightly, enough to give us the mindset that the two actors are one in the same, just different ages. It’s effective all around, with Levitt giving off little inflections that Bruce has in his other films, while still maintaining what makes Levitt one of the finest young actors around. His young version of Joe is conflicted and restless, making some personal connection along the way that develop the character and mold him into a different version of Joe. His action moments are stunning, containing that raw, emotional tact when dispensing countless other henchmen of the syndicate.
Bruce Willis is really just Bruce Willis, except with a underlying rage and determination that his older version of Joe has now that he realizes what is in store for his future self and setting up the playing field so the deck is in his favor. There are utterly brilliant moments of true Willis charms and tenacity. He gets the opportunity to play a bit of Die Hard with the film and those moments are made perfectly for him. But while he can steal the show, when he confronts Levitt in several scenes, that is where the young and old style acting plays off one another. It offers up some of the best moments of character development in the movie while propelling the narrative for the audience. There is a charged atmosphere when each insult one another, but both trying to figure themselves out.
There are some challenges that the film does have with the presentation and story, mainly the large sign posts that lead the audience to obvious answers and conclusions. Johnson tries to make an overtly complex story line with time traveling at it’s heart, but does sidestep the deeper conversation of time traveling paradoxes or issues. Instead the story follows along at a brisk pace of action and suspense, but never really wows in terms of twists. It leads us to moments where it is supposed to be revealing and instead ends up being rather obvious. That isn’t a big strike against it since if he decided to focus solely on time traveling film about the ethics of traveling, we would get lost amongst the miasma of scientific inquiry, clouding the film altogether.
A refreshing and exciting science fiction action film that blends together this retro and technological setting without becoming to grandiose for its own good. The film is self contained to rural settings and a few moments of urban settings, but the escapism takes us to the farmland of Kansas and keeps us there for a nice portion of the film. I personally enjoyed the enclosed nature of the film, not letting the story wander out into the politics and standing of the world around them. We accept that there is a societal breakdown with people and government is never addressed, leaving us to wonder how and why things are different, but not making it the focal point.
Looper does manage to close its own loop in the end. A full circle film that delivers both an exciting action film, but also a rich science fiction experience. There are a few shortcomings in the plot driven story, such as sign posting for obvious twists and points, but that is easily discarded in favor of a fast paced film that brings us something new to chew on. Levitt and Willis are absolutely amazing in this film and definitely add to the dynamics of young and old Joe. It’s a challenging look at predetermination with the choices that the Joe’s make, following their established rules about closure, ending the loop and shaping their future. It’s a very well thought out film from an intriguing director who offers up a challenge to the audience instead of accepting the norm. Looper is one of the best science fiction films this year.
Rating: 4.5 time travelers out of 5
*images via RottenTomatoes