I mean come on, what fun is a time machine that isn’t bigger on the inside?
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a really great movie in theaters. Sure, there have been good movies and not-bad movies, but the last month or so has left a disappointing deficiency of films that have left a lasting impact on me. Between the content of its trailers and the high amount of laudatory reviews out of the gate, however, I knew that Looper was likely to change that. I acknowledge that the time-travel premise has been covered many times in many different ways, but Looper’s approach on the sub-genre is probably the most interesting set up for a film I’ve seen this year. Add on the appealing choices of Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and more for the cast and you have all of the ingredients for a modern sci-fi classic alongside the likes of The Matrix or Inception. While it isn’t perfect and occasionally suffers from CPS (Confusing Plot Syndrome), Looper is a well acted and well executed film that manages to take a multitude of moving parts and bring them together for a powerful conclusion.
The movie begins in the same way as its trailers, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Joe, explaining his job to the audiences. That job is the elimination of targets sent back in time from the future, where time travel has been invented but is only used by organized crime to dispose of those they decide to be disposable. That’s where Joe and his fellow Loopers come in. It’s their job to finish the job once a target has been sent back in time, for which they are well
compensated with the exception of one small catch; the knowledge that some day they will receive their future selves as targets to eliminate. This catch is known as “Closing the Loop”, and failure to successfully close your loop is met with fairly grotesque consequences from Abe (Jeff Daniels), a mob boss sent from the future to hire and control Loopers, and his hired guns know as “Gat Men”. Long story short, Joe is faced with the closing of his own loop when his future self (Bruce Willis) escapes his execution/suicide with the intention of killing the child version of a future criminal king-pin known as “The Rainmaker”.
Looper posits a question that we can all ask ourselves to different results; If you could go back in time and have a conversation with your past self, would the two of you get along? In Joe’s case, the answer is a resounding NO. Some of the most interesting scenes of the movie take place between Young Joe and Old Joe, and the differences between the two are just as important as the similarities. Young Joe is cool, cocky, and deeply alone. He compensates for his isolation with a glamorous lifestyle and an addiction to an eye-drop delivered narcotic that gives the user effects somewhere between Ecstasy and really potent weed. He seems
to be completely impervious to the moral pitfalls of his job, yet his self-centeredness leads to the moment of pause which allows his future self to escape. Future Joe on the other hand has been worn down from a life of violence but redeemed by the cleansing effects of a long-overdue romance. When his wife is taken from him by agents of the notorious Rainmaker, however, that cleansing transforms itself into a morally-blind determination to save his wife at any cost. I found myself effectively drawn into to the juxtaposition of the young and old characters, especially as the story moved into the final act and we see just how true the old phrase is; “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
Joseph and Bruce may hold center stage here, but from an acting standpoint I was even more impressed with Emily Blunt as a mysterious but incredibly touch single mother that Young Joe seeks shelter from around the halfway point of the movie. Blunt melts into her role as the fiercely maternal Sara, yet beyond the barrel of her Remington 870 there’s an underlying feel that something is not quite right with her son, Cid. Without giving away to much, the precocious 10 year old could easily have been named Damien with the level of eeriness he gives off.
The movie’s premise is simultaneously its greatest strength and it its most damning weakness. On the one hand, it provides the mechanics for the sort of moral dilemmas that fuel the movie’s cerebral side (is it right to kill an innocent person for their future crimes?), yet on the other it puts forth a great deal of questions that the film goes back and forth on whether or not it wants to answer. At one point, Old Joe is attempting to explain the workings of time travel to young Joe, and vicariously the audience, and his reply essentially boils down to “It’s too complicated to explain, just trust me”. Now I’m aware that many people criticized Inception for it’s extensive explanations of how the process worked, but at least thought was put into that process and after a second viewing I felt like I understand what was going on. In Looper, we’re supposed to suspend our belief in concepts like Time paradoxes without any suggestion as to how those paradoxes are addressed (i.e. infinite regression, I go back to kill my grandfather but without my grandfather I never would have existed to kill my grandfather and so on).
The Verdict: 8.5/10 Impressive
Despite my criticisms with the movie’s handling of time travel, I respect Looper for the way it crafts a compelling compelling story and a challenging moral labyrinth for it’s characters to occupy. Combine that with the fact that the effects of the film are top notch in spite of its incredibly low $30 million budget and the result is a truly enthralling piece of film-making from third time director Rian Johnson. If you support intelligent sci-fi and want to see more movies like Looper put onto the dockets of other major studios, I highly encourage you to see this film in theaters.
Check out some reviews from my fellow reviewers (+/- means positive or negative opinion) and tell me your favorite Time Travel Movie Here