Arts movie review

Closing the loop

Present and future collide in Rian Johnson’s action-packed Looper

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Current and future Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis) go head-to-head in time-travel action film Looper.
Photo by Alan Markfield. courtesy of Sony Pictures

★★★★✩

Looper

Directed by Rian Johnson

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt

Rated R

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Despite the fact that Looper’s entire premise is time travel, it’s not your typical sci-fi film. It is hard to give a summary of the film without unraveling the plot, which speaks to how intricate the storyline is. Without giving too much away, the film centers on Joe (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is meant to kill his future self (played by Bruce Willis). Little does he know that his future self has a plan of his own to both stay alive and prevent future events.

Director and writer Rian Johnson cleverly evades the complications that come with time travel by having Bruce Willis’s character state outright, “I don’t want to talk about time travel shit.” Viewers who want to see a true science fiction film will be disappointed (the time machine, resembling an old-fashioned scuba diver mask, is also rather lackluster next to the futuristic computers and printers), but the film proves to be perfectly entertaining and well-made. By sidestepping the issues of time travel, Johnson makes room to ask questions like whether “the ends justifying the means,” — a theme that facilitates a twist ending which left me speechless.

I was particularly impressed by the jargon Johnson created. “Looper” refers to a person, like Joe, who kills people sent back in time from the future (so that there is no dead body as evidence). The term is apt because these assassins operate under the knowledge that they will eventually have to “close their loop,” or kill their future selves to tie up loose ends. Throughout the film, characters use phrases such as “letting your loop run” and “it’s the second loop this week,” which helps legitimize the alternate reality Johnson has created.

Cinematographically, the film was a consummate work. Motifs like close-ups of cigarette smoke and ticking clocks are intricately placed, the camera work while Gordon-Levitt is on an acid trip is breathtaking, and the details necessary to maintain consistency between the future and current Joe are painstakingly accurate. For example, in a diner scene, we see a newly injured, bandaged ear on Gordon-Levitt and a disfigured ear on Willis. Most of all, the dialogue is sharply witty. Jeff Daniels, whose character is from the future, utters one of the best lines: “I’m from the future, you should go to China.” I could even swear I heard Willis yell “yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” over a machine gun, but that could just be wishful thinking.

Another nearly flawless aspect was the casting. Veterans Bruce Willis and Jeff Daniels bring their usual prowess to the screen, while Paul Dano and Emily Blunt successfully transform into roles that are unlike any others they have played before (Blunt even tackles a Southern accent). A highlight comes in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who supposedly spent hours in make-up having prosthetics applied so that he would look more like Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt is an incredibly versatile actor, but his kind features usually hinder him when playing serious roles. Though his contrived voice and strangely perfect eyebrows are distracting at first, he is able to capitalize on the disguise and adopt a convincing tough guy persona. Unfortunately, child actor Pierce Gagnon, who plays Cid, does not bring enough depth to his character, and although he only has a few scenes, these scenes are crucial to the plot.

My largest grievance is that the film is disguised as a sci-fi film when it is actually a drama with sci-fi elements. Sci-fi has often produced some of the most philosophical films, and these films have the technology at the forefront. Looper was publicized as a time travel film, but Johnson chose not to address the muddiness of the concept and to just take the best parts of science fiction — cool graphics, an arsenal of weapons, and the “trippy” factor.

2 Comments
1
Melvin Harris over 7 years ago

I thought this review was fair and nicely balanced until the comments about Pierce Gagnon and the disguise of the film. First of all, Gagnon. This 5 year old's performance was stellar. He was 5 when this was shot. The choices he made as an actor showed great depth and range and he had more than a few scenes... most of the 2nd act and all of the third contained him. Honestly, I'd say that he has a similar scene count to Willis.

Next, you say this:

"My largest grievance is that the film is disguised as a sci-fi film when it is actually a drama with sci-fi elements. Sci-fi has often produced some of the most philosophical films, and these films have the technology at the forefront. Looper was publicized as a time travel film, but Johnson chose not to address the muddiness of the concept and to just take the best parts of science fiction cool graphics, an arsenal of weapons, and the trippy factor."

Was Looper not philosophical?

Did it not address themes of a moral and philosophical nature?

Was technology a factor in 12 Monkeys?

You state that he chose not to address the muddiness of time travel, does that negate the science in this fiction?

Source Code has less "technology" in it than this, but it was science fiction...

Not with you here...

The rest was pretty good.

2
Gareth over 7 years ago

Liked this review overall and thanks for posting. Have to completely disagree with comments about Pierce Gagnon, though - I thought he was completely believable and more than a bit frightening where he had to be!

Agree that one of the movie's real strengths (and there were many - this is a good film that, in time, may well be recognised as a great film) is that it's not bogged down in genre. Ultimately, it's story-driven and well played.

Good to see Jeff Daniels (if you haven't seen Timescape, do!) and his line about China - the whole China not France advice was brilliantly intriguing - is something that made this future completely believeable.

The establishing sequences of a cold, brutal America (shanti-town settlements on the street, vagrant opportunist-robbers shot in the back) were as chilling as Seth's nightmarish, paradoxical end! The Matrix for a generation? Possibly. Just another bubblegum Sci-Fi flick? I agree with you: It definitely ain't that!