Looper

PhotobucketIn 2074, time travel is possible but it’s outlawed. This however doesn’t stop the mob from sending their targets 30 years back into the past. This is where specialized assassins called loopers wait to kill and cleanly get rid of a body that technically doesn’t exist. One day Joe must “close the loop” and finish off his older counterpart, but when he comes face to face with the older version of himself, he hesitates and old Joe escapes. Now he must track down the escapee and eliminate this loose end or incur the wrath of his underworld boss.

Writer/director Rian Johnson has created a fascinating world in which a crime syndicate of loopers kill and eradicate with mechanized skill. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Bruce Willis’ Joe at a younger age. The story is propelled by young Joe’s drive to contain and dispose of his future self. This is Kansas and the blunderbuss is their weapon of choice, a firearm with a short, large caliber barrel that doesn’t require a lot of accuracy to use. Gat Men, the more elite of the mob’s henchmen, are the muscle that enforce the rules that loopers must live by. They journey on slat bikes, cycles that hover over the ground. Many humans have developed telekinesis as sort of a genetic mutation. It’s a heady mix, like The Matrix, The Shining and Donnie Darko had ménage à trois and Looper was the beautiful baby from that union.

Looper’s script is wisely aware of the complexities of time travel. Yet it stops short of fully delving into the cerebral intricacies of it. Astute viewers will notice certain inaccuracies emerge that aren‘t understood until the film develops. Early on JGL allows his future self to escape then promptly revisits the scene again where he immediately rights that wrong. It’s a perplexing sequence when initially viewed, but grows clearer as the film unfolds. There always will be inherent dilemmas in time travel movies that cannot be resolved. Think too hard and you’ll get a headache or simply accept the conceit and it’s wild roller coaster ride of a film. I’m still not convinced the multiple time lines make sense as they exist in never-ending loops of logic, but the narrative had me too hypnotized to care.

What’s separates Looper from your garden variety time travel hokum is its character based structure. There is a lull here and there, but for the most part the thriller is captivating. Willis even gets a chance to single handedly display the kind of badassery he’s known for when he starts blasting away with two guns at those nasty Gat Men. As good as Willis is, this is JGL’s movie. I was concerned upon seeing his unrecognizable face from the trailer that his makeup would be distracting. JGL’s face looks like a heavily botoxed rendering of himself. However, one should not underestimate his acting. Even though Willis and JGL look nothing alike, I would’ve preferred we take a leap of faith and accept the premise without makeup. With facial expressions, vocal inflections and gestures, JGL carefully conveys a younger version of Willis. He’s good enough that after awhile, the weird makeup becomes less of an issue and you’re focused on the scope of his predicament.

The hectic first half is an exciting actioner highlighted by the occasionally confusing time traveling motif. It’s consistently enjoyable. The plot then takes an unexpected turn halfway through. We are introduced to Sara, a single mom on the farm played by Emily Blunt and her mysterious son Cid, an impressive child performance by Pierce Gagnon. Here’s where an interesting sci-fi becomes a human drama. What this storyline lacks in action, it more than makes up for in heart. How mother and son are relevant to his mission is something I won’t reveal, but it gives an already entertaining fantasy, a thrilling development. Precocious little Cid is a boy that easily joins the ranks of creepiest kids ever.

Looper reunites JGL with Rian Johnson, the writer/director behind 2005’s indie high school mystery, Brick. That modern noir heralded a prodigious new talent. His follow-up The Brothers Bloom was a step back, but now with Looper he takes one giant leap forward. In the end, I won’t insist that all of the time traveling mumbo jumbo intellectually holds up, because I don’t think it does. Its brain twisting time zigzag jumps caused me to exclaim Huh?! on more than one occasion. Smart viewers will question script logic. Having a looper murder their own future self clearly causes more problems than a disinterested, neutral party would, for example. But the sincere connection we have to these characters compels us to watch. It’s a mesmerizing tale with a very satisfying conclusion. The second half in particular has a surprisingly amount of heart that even upholds the importance of good parenting. Wasn’t expecting that. Looper blends an engaging sci-fi time traveling fable with the tenderness of an emotional drama. I love when a story exceeds my expectations and Looper does just that. But one last question, Whatever happened to France?

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47 Responses to “Looper”

  1. I loved it! I can’t add any more than what you said. I liked it for all the same reasons. Had some questions, but that didn’t matter. I really enjoyed this film.

  2. lol, I’d also like to know what happened to France…

    I think my biggest problems with this movie were with the time-travel mechanics, but I thought that the memory aspect of it was actually pretty well handles (“I see everything now as one in an infinite set of possibilities, the closer to the present the clearer I remember it”)

    I think what I liked best about the movie though was how it tackled some pretty weighty moral dilemmas later on, and I think that the end finished that aspect off nicely

    • The worst feeling is when a movie ends abruptly. Suddenly the credits start rolling and you’re like, “Is that it?” Looper had a brilliant ending of finality that perfectly address those “moral dilemmas” you mention. I left the theater feeling very pleased.

  3. Excellent review Mark. I also wondered about France and only just now remembered thinking why he had gone to Shanghai instead. Time-travel films always fascinate me, even if the story is dreadful, but thankfully Rian Johnson had taken care of that very well indeed. Superb film all-round, loved it.

    • I wouldn’t have noticed had JGL’s character not been so adamant about retiring in France. He said it like 3 times in that one scene. I kept waiting for a Shanghai explanation that never came. Small issue though. Smart script overall.

  4. Excellent review man.

  5. Definitely loved your review, more than the film itself!

    There are some major question marks about the story and it doesn’t help that the writer-director has not been able to address some of those issues when he was interviewed about them. Regardless of that, it’s a decent ride all the way, and I did enjoy it.

    • Writer-director Rian Johnson sort of address the issue in the movie when Bruce Willis (as Old Joe) says,

      “I don’t want to talk about time travel. Because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.”

      Clever way to get out of that conversation, huh? Ha ha. And thanks!

  6. Great review. I’m waiting so impatiently to see this. I might next weekend, but I’m so busy, so I can’t count on it.

    P.S.: How come WordPress is saying the review was posted on 9/28/2012 at 8:00 PM, yet it didn’t appear till today?

  7. I thought this was a decent movie, but I had one major issue with it. That issue hurt the movie quite a bit in my eyes.

    Good review.

  8. Good review Mark. This film kept me going from start to finish but there was no big emotional pay-off that I was expecting. The film spends a good time with these characters and their motivations but feels a bit open-handed when it comes to what they want us to think about them. I don’t know what my problem was with this flick but I know one thing, I was always entertained.

    • I noticed you gave it 8.5/10. That’s a solid recommendation for sure!

      If I can be as ambiguous as possible so as not to spoil the ending, I actually found what happens at the end, profoundly emotional.

  9. “Even though Willis and JGL look nothing alike, I would’ve preferred we take a leap of faith and accept the premise without makeup.”

    Same here.

    Fantastic review, Mark. I am dying to see this one. I’m sure I will love it. Cannot wait. Every review I read so far, like yours, has been glowing.

  10. Glad to see that overall we agree on this movie, it’s a great piece that, even though it struggles with it’s time-travel logic, doesn’t entirely implode when looked into further, because as you say, it has more going for it like the emotional heart that comes into it later. I agree that JGL’s make up was unnecessary, and even what they did was too much, just contact lenses for colour and maybe a nose prosthesis would have done more than what they tried to do ( for a good example of this, see Tom Hardy in Star Trek: Nemesis where he was given a nose prosthesis to look like a young Patrick Stewart).

    • Do the filmmakers believe we can easily accept time travel but not that a younger actor can play an older one? Even the casting director of Men in Black 3 earlier this year had faith we could accept Josh Brolin as a younger Tommy Lee Jones without using any makeup whatsoever.

      The makeup in Looper was bizarre but I got used to it, mainly because JGL was so good.

  11. Very concise, yet thorough, review without revealing too much. I’ve read others, unfortunately, and ruined some pretty neat things I would’ve loved to discover for myself.

    I haven’t seen it yet (I’m thinking I’ll wait till DVD) but overall consensus gives me a feeling that I’d either love it or hate it. Those who fall under the former seem to enjoy its concept but those who fall under the latter seem to be let down by either 1) the sudden shift in tone you mentioned and 2) the holes in the script which isn’t at all foreign to time travel movies. I’m excited to see it when I get the chance. :)

  12. Michael Büker Says:

    Funny you should mention it feels like a baby of The Matrix, The Shining and Donnie Darko to you. I also thought of The Matrix and Donnie Darko by association, but after seeing the film, I decided it was the perfect love marriage of 12 Monkey, Children of Men and Inception.
    Anyway, lots of lovin’ going on there ;)

    • You’re right. 12 Monkeys is a perfect reference. Inception too. The films I mention films were my gut reaction upon leaving the film. I still think of those too, but the ones you mention are even better.

  13. Didn’t read the review as I am keen to see this and know as liitle about is as possible before I go. I think its going to be good.

  14. martin250 Says:

    This is one of your most exciting reviews. haven’t seen this movie yet, but what a plot.

    you almost gave it a full score, 4.1/2 stars. and am assuming that the missing half is only due to the impossible Time Travel science. But am a bit curious on your take as to why the science doesn’t hold up at least for this movies sake.

    maybe i just need to watch it. but i was thinking that if Willis travels back, he then enters into the time line of JGL. If JGL eliminates him, JGL lives on. If not, Willis simply exists in the time line of JGL.

    i realize this could be a neverending discussion and thats not my intention at all. but was just curious on your thoughts on any fallacies in the logic. dont’ get me wrong, i find it confusing myself. but it would be fun if one logic can be figured out and applied to all other movies of its kind.

    • I did find some of the time travel plot points contusing. They don’t always make sense, but it didn’t matter. I enjoyed the film too much to really care. You have to suspend disbelief just to accept that time travel (an impossibility) exists.

  15. YESS!! I’m seeing this today. :D

  16. Rian Johnson continues to excel. I’ve loved his previous work and I’m looking forward to catching up with this one.

  17. Good review, I enjoyed reading it. I think if you end up thinking too hard about any time travel story you’re just going to ruin the film for yourself

  18. Great review, as always Mark.

    I didn’t quite enjoy Looper as much as you did. I think I succumbed to Fernando’s Avengers Assemble predicament!

    Don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy it. I just expected more. When JGL is morphing into Willis over the years, I couldn’t help but laugh when he had one long black streak of hair across his face. Unlike you, the make up still bothered me!

    • Yeah that scene with the long black hair should have been removed. I laughed too. The makeup was never great, but after awhile I think the strength of the story got me hooked. One of my favorites for the year.

  19. I finally saw ‘Looper’ on DVD. You’re right that the movie could be picked apart easily if you really did scrutinize the time travel aspects. That aside, my question throughout the film is why should I care about JGL’s character and more importantly why should I fear the so-called “Rainmaker”?

    In the future, the Rainmaker presumably takes control of the crime syndicate but seemingly for the explicit purpose of closing all the loops, meaning getting rid of all the loopers, thus stopping all of the assassinations and murders being perpetrated by the mob. My question is why is this a bad thing that we, the audience, should be rooting against?

    If we followed the initial plans of JGL and Bruce Willis to their logical conclusions, they would end with loopers still doing what they’re doing, killing people. Is this something we’re supposed to want? It’s funny, but I’m actually on the side of the Rainmaker and his desire to stop the loopers because at the end of the day the loopers are cold-blooded assassins who should be stopped.

    • A valid point. I don’t think it’s wrong of you to be on the side of the Rainmaker. Look at a movie like The Godfather. It’s all about the mob and their questionable business practices. We don’t have to support what they do to still be interested in and fascinated by their story. Also I think the ending satisfies any moral qualms a viewer might have.

      • **** SPOILERS ****

        I did think of ‘The Godfather’ but the tone of that movie is very different than this one. The goals are very different. ‘Looper’ wants to be this action film with the heroic ending. It wants to redeem JGL’s character in a way, make him a hero in the traditional sense, one that would obviously sacrifice himself for a greater good. I don’t think that’s the tone or theme of ‘The Godfather’.

        You’re right. By the end there is no more moral qualms because in a sense the initial plans of both JGL and Willis are defeated, but, up until that point, that moment when JGL ends everything permanently, there is nothing that he does that makes that sort of heroic turn at the end all that believable.

        For example, I’m not sure what the true reason is that JGL doesn’t kill the Rainmaker when he gets the chance. He’s so cold-blooded, so selfish throughout this movie that I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t kill the Rainmaker because he knows that the Rainmaker is his future boss, so he figured that he might as well get in good with the boss while he’s a little boy.

        Plus, I’m not sure that JGL has the presence and charisma of Brando or Pacino that would draw the audience into his character no matter the business he was in.

    • You initially wondered “why should I care about JGL’s character?“ I was only drawing a parallel between movies that concerned morally dubious characters we were supposed to care about. The Godfather and Looper have that in common. I wasn’t comparing the tone, theme or charisma of the stars.

      This is a great discussion! :-)

  20. Nice review about Looper, I have also review Looper in my own way.

    Please give me the feedback.

  21. the make up didn’t become less of an issue for me
    it was constant buzzing in my brain
    killed any possibility of enjoying the film

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