Thursday, October 11, 2012


Written and directed by Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels - Rated R
"This time travel crap just fries your brain like an egg..."

Time travel movies are fascinating…and can be mind-blowing.  Wait, did I write, “mind-blowing”?  I meant irritating.  The concept can lead to fun, interesting, exciting, and gloriously complicated films, but it also makes your head hurt if you try to wrap your brain around every minute detail.  (Don’t worry.  I am not going to write a lengthy thesis about the ins and outs of time travel.  Go to the message boards if you want to read theories written by the time travel “experts” that populate IMDb.)  The films that use time travel to great success, like 12 Monkeys, The Terminator, or Back to the Future (to name a few), rarely waste much time with complicated plot points about time travel.  Those films feature a lot of explanation, 12 Monkeys being the closest film that could be complicated.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have films like Triangle, Timecrimes, and Primer.  These films, while great and thought provoking, can almost feel like homework assignments when you stop and think about them.  They become complicated because of all the alternate universes and timelines they create.  You almost need to take notes to keep track of it all.  (Sorry to the fans that find those films easy to follow.  They just feel more like work than play to me.)

Looper, the latest from writer/director Rian Johnson, thankfully falls in the former group.  It is an interesting, entertaining sci-fi movie that doesn’t get bogged down with the rules of time travel.  That is not to say that this is a simple film.  It is still about time travel and it still contains a paradox or two.  But if we’re willing to forgive The Terminator its paradox (sorry, I don’t buy any theories about how it is possible for John Connor to send his own father back in time to become his father) because of its awesomeness, then we should do the same for Looper. 

Looper is a great movie for many reasons, Rian Johnson being number one.  He has crafted such an interesting story.  In the relatively near future, time travel has yet to be invented, but it will be thirty years later.  Since it is impossible to get away with murder in the future, crime lords will use time travel to send undesirables into the past to be taken care of by hit men, or loopers.  Eventually, since time travel is so illegal in the future (and to protect the criminals’ own interests), a looper must close his own loop.  This means he must eventually kill his own older self.  All of their marks show up hooded, so a looper doesn’t know he has essentially killed himself until after the job is done. 

Enter Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an addict (he's addicted to some future drug taken in the form of eye drops) who quietly goes about his business in the hopes of saving up plenty and eventually having a happy retirement.  Things go awry when Joe has to close his own loop.  His older self, or Old Joe, shows up without his hood on.  Being face to face with his older self (Bruce Willis) startles Joe, giving Old Joe enough time to distract Joe and get away.  Someone from the future being loose in the past is a huge problem for the mob, so young Joe must stop Old Joe no matter what.

What makes the plot of Looper more interesting is that Old Joe doesn't run simply because he wants to live longer.  He's there to kill the child version of the future's evil overlord.  I think it makes the film more interesting because it takes the common time travel scenario of going back in time to kill someone like, oh, let's go with the mainstay, Hitler, but adding the problem of said Hitler-type being a child.  You start to rethink things once you see a gun pointed at a child who has done nothing wrong...yet.  The moral implications of Old Joe's plan fascinated me and Willis did a fine job of showing steely reserve as he contemplated murder. 

Bruce Willis is right at home in a sci-fi film (he's even done the time travel thing a time or two, as well), and his scenes with Young Joe discussing time travel are great.  At one point it's almost as if he's predicting the internet message board arguments by yelling at Joe and telling him to forget about the time travel crap.  I'm with him on that; just enjoy the show. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes it very easy to enjoy this film.  The first thing you notice is how different he looks in this film because they put makeup and prosthetics on his face to make look more like a young Bruce Willis.  The true joy of his performance, though, comes through his mannerisms.  His constant squint, that bark of a laugh; it's a great performance and it makes the film a lot of fun.  I only wish they shared more screen time. 

The rest of the cast is well-rounded.  Jeff Daniels plays a somewhat disinterested future immigrant in an interesting way.  Paul Dano is in his wheelhouse playing a nervous, stuttering looper.  Emily Blunt is does okay as a single mom on a farm.  Garrett Dillahunt has a great, tense scene.  And Pierce Gagnon is admirable if for no other reason than he is a child actor in a sci-fi film and he isn't annoying at all.  Kudos to the marketing team behind this film completely leaving the child out of the previews even though it is a vital part of the film.  I'm serious, this film probably did better because people were unaware that a child factored into the plot.

Speaking of marketing, this film is being touted as one of the “best action films” of the year.  But it's not really an action movie.  The few action scenes are great, though.  Willis's big action scene might go down as one of the best of his career, and that is certainly saying something.   

But Looper is not an action movie.  It's a sci-fi/time travel movie.  There's a great future world created with very few answers to any questions that might arise (and that's the way it should be, most of the time, in sci-fi).  There is a multiple time line aspect to the film, but it is handled in a very clear and stylish way.  In fact, the film is flat out stylish and it works on nearly every level.  I was left with only one issue with Rian Johnson's great film: I wanted more.  I wanted to see more of the world, I wanted more of the future world Bruce Willis came from, I wanted more one-on-one scenes with Gordon-Levitt and Willis, etc.  If the only issue you have with a film is that you wish there was more of it, then that is a good problem to have.  Check out Looper.  It might not be one of the best “action” movies of the year, but it is one of the best movies of the year.

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