Directed By: Rian Johnson
Written By: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels
Time travel is messy. It can lead to complex story telling that causes confusion and opens the door for an endless amount of plot holes. Some dare to take up the challenge to prove they can do time travel right. Director Rian Johnson is the latest to take up this venture with his science fiction thriller Looper. Johnson proves he is up for that challenge and creates a film with a thick plot that requires immediate digestion. Looper engages the audiences in a multitude of deep questions and ideas, but never gets lost in its own head. Those looking for a cookie cutter action film may be disappointed with the pacing and lack of action, but if you can appreciate quality direction and an astuteness to do something different and original you will be delighted.
In the film time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but it will be. In 2072 when the mob wants to get rid of someone they send the person back 30 years where assassins, known as Loopers, kill the targets and dispose of the bodies. We spend much of the first act of the film getting to know the world of 2042, and to the film’s credit it knows what to tell us and what to show us. We can see how the world is devolving and how the class divide is becoming even larger. Johnson also likes to play with the idea of how things tend to repeat themselves throughout history. This was typically seen through wardrobe choices, but was also seen in smaller and less obvious ideas. It was just one example of how the film took advantage of the palette time travel gives you. It’s not all about cool gadgets and shiny play things. Sometimes focusing on ideas is a lot more rewarding.
We learn about this world through Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Joe a once orphan with no future turned Looper. Due to the nature of their job Loopers are paid handsomely but there is a catch. One day they will need to ‘close their loop’, which is when a Looper unknowingly assassinates their future self. This allows their employer to close out any loose ends. The Looper then receives a huge final pay day and is set free to enjoy their final thirty years. When Joe attempts to close his own loop things hit a bit of a snag and his future self escapes. Now Joe must hunt down his future self or feel the wrath of his employer. Although that explains the basic premise of the film the actual story goes far beyond that initial foundation. If you are going to enjoy this film to its fullest extent its best to go in as cold as possible. One thing you should be aware of is how the film likes to take its time. The second act especially slows down to focus on the characters and to establish relationships. Those relationships may not appear all that important based on their face value, but as things progress their importance becomes more evident. That transition does put a halt on the tension that was quickly building in the first act, but does serve to make the conclusion far more impactful. More could have been done to ease us into that transition more smoothly. Since it felt extremely abrupt it caused the lull to feel nearly endless. There were a few snippets of action in the second act, but they did more harm than good. Their only purpose seemed to be unnecessary pandering to the audience, and they weren’t engaging enough to get those who may have left back on board. Those who did stay with the film for the final act were rewarded with one epic conclusion.
The main focus of the film is the relationship and conflict between Joe and his future self. Bruce Willis was given the job to play future Joe, and this is easily one of the best things he has done in awhile. It is one of the few times in recent memory were we are given the opportunity to see a deeper side of his acting talent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was honored with the duty of playing a role that is basically young Bruce Willis. He changed much about himself to convey this character. The makeup they used to morph his face to look like Willis was honestly distracting at first. It looked like Gordon-Levitt was recovering from swelling due to a recent oral surgery of some sort. After awhile that distraction lessens as we became use to the look. I admire the effort he gave to recreate all of Willis’s mannerisms and characteristics to get us to buy they are playing the same person. I was just never able to become completely convinced that was the case. It was a valiant effort it just wasn’t completely successful. Perhaps if the two actors weren’t already so widely known it would be easier to view them as the same person. Separately both were great in their performances so it was easy to give the film that one conceit.
Conversely the person who is mainly responsible for the success of this film is writer/director Rian Johnson. It has been stated Johnson spent nearly a decade working out this script to make it fit perfectly as possible, and it looks like he accomplished that goal. Looper gives us a lot to dissect as we judge the morality of what is happening. Questions and debate are immediately brought up when discussing time travel and it smartly lingers on the bewilderment that is inherent with those issues. We are tempted to determine what drives us and where we stand on matters of life and death. Here we are given a vice that plays out many of those themes with a great meticulousness. No choice is simple or allowed to have an easy way ought. Johnson smartly provides each character with strong motivations so we have no strong footing to stand on when deciding who to route for. That’s if we decide to route for anyone at all since there are no true heroes here. No one is without strong faults, or provides a path that is void of repercussions. Is the decision to take a life a selfish one or a noble one, or is it possible to be both? Looper is unrelenting towards its audience in providing those types of questions. This was one of the few films in a long while that left me stumped in figuring out where it would go next. With that in mind I attempted to be as vague as needed to give you fresh eyes when walking into this film. If you are able to take in what this film gives you and allow it to take its time you will find one rich movie experience.
Good review. I agree with your comments. And I also urge moviegoers to go into this fresh. In fact, hopefully they will not read your review because I think the less you know, the better. However, I have been telling friends about the slower pace so that they aren’t surprised that it isn’t a fast-paced formulaic sci-fi action film. I still think about this film, and I would love to see it again. Extremely well done.
Thanks for the comment. I agree the less you know the better with this. Its a film that has stuck with me for sure and could easily become a 5 star film after rewatch
I truly enjoyed this film as well…not sure I would have given it QUITE as high of a score as you did but I applaud its originality and basic feel. Definitely on pace to make my Top Ten this year but it may fall victim if the rest of the year lives up to expectations!
Thanks for the comment. Regarding the rating I basically
look at the star ratings as this (1 Star-hated it, 2 Stars- Didn’t like it, 3
Stars-Liked It, 4 Stars-really Like it, 5 Stars-loved it) This feel right
in-between liking it loving it so I went with 4 and a half. I’ll be honest when
I left the theater I was like this is a three, maybe a four star film. As I thought
about it more and began to understand it better my appreciation grew. There are
so many small moments that are fantastic and a sign of a creative director.