Movie Review – Looper

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

About Nick
I am just another blogger putting his thoughts into a website. My love is movies so most of my musings will be movie related. I work as an online marketer for an advertising company and when I am not earning a paycheck, I moonlight as a vigilante film blogger.

13 Responses to Movie Review – Looper

  1. mistylayne says:

    It sounds VERY confusing actually, lol. But it does sound pretty good and JGL is one of my heroes so I’ll probably catch it on dvd. 🙂

  2. I will be there tomorrow night. I’ve been waiting for this one.

  3. Pingback: Movie of the Day – Looper | Another Plot Device

  4. JustMeMike says:

    Yo Nick – I know you mentioned Emily Blunt as a farmhand girl and that she had a son. But you made no further mention of her. You also made no mention of Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom).
    I think that your readers should know that these two as well as Blunt’s son who has telekinetic powers are more, much more, than simply bit players who names scroll by in the closing credits.

    Blunt is certainly a key element in the film. As his her son. Daniels brings what he calls sex, drugs, and rock n roll to the film.,

    I think that Blunt’s performance alone is a worthy reason for women to see this film. Rian Johnson is a brilliant guy, and as you’ve correctly described the film – he didn’t really deal in the paradoxes and issues of time travel.

    Since this is the case, how did you manage to mention just two members of the cast with any depth? Ladies will love how Blunt played her role. One would never know that she hails from the UK rather than Kansas as her British accent went out like so much smoke up a chimney.

    Want a real paradox? You and I both reviewed the film and scored it at four point five despite the fact that we looked at the film with wildly different perspectives.

    • Nick says:

      Hey Mike, Thank you for the comment about the review. I do realize that I did leave out Blunt and Daniels from the review mix more than anything else, but it wasn’t due to wanting to, I just more or less got caught up in the presentation of time traveling in the movie. Heck Willis and Levitt got about a paragraph and a half to talk about their character before I go back into the time aspect of the movie.

      Blunt is wonderful in the movie, as her character is basically thrust into a time line that she isn’t in control of and doesn’t know how to handle it. She does play a key role in the twist I think of the whole nature/nurture aspect of the movie where she could be the key to whether or not the son becomes who Willis says he does. I may have cheaply left that out in order to talk less about the climax and lynch pin of the plot points for the readers, So for that I apologize for not including her.

      I get more wrapped up in the science of it all and if given the opportunity, I would have written a lot more about it.

      Thanks for the great comment Mike!

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