Entertainment Magazine

Review #3712: Looper (2012)

Posted on the 03 October 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson

There is the common hypothetical question in time travel that has been pondered over so much that it has pretty much become a joke: If it were possible, could you go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler? The newest time travel film in Hollywood — “Looper” — plays around with that question, and it’s one of the many surprises it has for the audience.

Review #3712: Looper (2012)

It’s so rewarding to see an original film in what feels like a long period of time. No adaptations from source material, something that isn’t a sequel, but a film that comes from the mind of one person and accomplished with such style. This is a violent film (one that really earns its “R” rating), but it’s a thought-provoking one. I was thinking about its events as they were occurring. I came into it with no expectations whatsoever. The trailers did nothing to explain the premise of the film clearly so I really had no idea what to expect. From the first moment, “Looper” kept me at strict attention, building itself with momentum scene by scene, and didn’t let me go until the final image.

The film begins in America of 2044. Time travel is not yet possible at this time, but by 2074, it is invented and immediately deemed illegal. A crime syndicate from the future uses time travel as a means of disposal of whoever they choose. That’s where “loopers” come into play. The syndicate tasks loopers to kill every time traveler from the future in the past for a large reward. At first, it seems like a simple and easy job. The kicker is that the loopers have a cruel self-fulfilling contract: The syndicate, from time to time, will send the future version of the loopers back in time to have their younger selves kill each other. This is called “closing the loop.”

I know it sounds confusing when it’s explained here, but it’s much more clear when we follow what happens in the film. This is what happens to Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He sees the results first hand of screwing around with the rules of being a looper when his best friend Seth (Paul Dano) lets his older self live instead of immediately killing him. It happens to Joe as his older self (Bruce Willis) shows up without being tied and hooded (victims are always bound and hooded when they arrive in the past). From there, the story jumps off into some trippy directions, all involving the assassination of a future Hitler-like person, a farmer woman with a tragic past (Emily Blunt), and the hunt for both versions of Joe by the rest of the loopers and Abe, its manager from the future (Jeff Daniels). I won’t say more about the plot than that because that would dent the enjoyment of this film.

I knew coming out of this film that explaining it to other people was probably going to elicit some quizzical looks. It’s a confusing premise, as is the usual with many time travel films. “Looper” reminds me of several different famous examples of time travel stories, including “The Terminator” and the “Days of Future Past” arc from the “X-Men” comic books. It also reminded me of the film “Minority Report” (Anderton’s single-minded pursuit of the man he’s intended to kill is reflected in both versions of Joe meeting each other in the diner). Writer/director Rian Johnson, who is familiar to me because he directed a couple of episodes of “Breaking Bad”, makes a surprisingly clear and concise film about time travel. It’s easy to follow without being so bogged down in explanations and headache-inducing paradoxes because of Young Joe’s steady voiceover narration. Once the film gets the explanation out of the way, everyone gets in on the fun of the concept.

Young Joe goes through his job day after day, then he goes through one possible iteration of his life after he closes his own loop. One could argue the rest of the film is a paradox from that point on. We see his life 30 years after the fact and then the film is like a feedback loop on itself. Bruce Willis doesn’t appear as Old Joe until the halfway through the film, and yet, he is just as compelling as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Joe is a cold bastard, and that makes Old Joe a ruthless operator who is determined to change his future, even if he has to get through his younger self to do it. Willis is known as an action star so it’s easy to forget that Willis can do dramatic acting too. His Joe is quiet, cynical, and methodical, and that comes from his character knowing much about the future that it informs on all his actions and facial expressions.

As much intrigue as the story holds, that isn’t made nearly as effective as it does if the performances from every actor carry it through. Gordon-Levitt does the majority of the heavy lifting, working through a range of emotions while interacting with every other character in the film. He has meaningful and weighty exchanges with a child and the future version of himself and a woman with a mysterious past. Sara is a character who doesn’t have a detailed history like Joe does, but I still couldn’t tell by the end of the film whether or not she was a liar. She factors big time in the emotional ending of this film, though.

It isn’t a perfect film because it does linger a bit too much at the farm instead of dealing with the complications of both Old and Young Joe in the same world at the same time. The world of 2044 by the way, is very plausible and incredibly detailed. Cities are grimy and dirty and overcrowded. Technology advances in a way that is familiar and alien at the same time. Look at how phones and computers are presented in this film. We are probably headed that way in a not so short a time. It adds to the immediacy of the events in the film. The characters are a reflection of the world they live in, and it’s a dangerous one.

While the middle of the film does drag a bit, Looper does earn its ending with surprise after surprise. Unlike many time travel or science fiction films, it makes a lot of logical sense and yet, it does present some intriguing questions as well. It makes sense because the film doesn’t violate the rules it sets at the beginning. It was written and directed with a sure hand. It could easily have flopped, weighed down by its complicated premise, and ended up being an incredible motion picture just to watch and experience. The complicated nature is part of the pleasure. I cannot recommend it enough.

Score: 9/10

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