Friday, September 28, 2012

Looper Review

Rian Johnson is a filmmaker that probably most people haven't heard of.  To be honest, I still have yet to see Brick, but I've heard nothing but great things.  I have, however, seen The Brothers Bloom; Bloom is and forever will be one my all-time favorite movie-going experiences.  That and The Hurt Locker.  If what Johnson does with Looper is any indication of where this man is headed in his career, then the world will be that much better for it.

I'm going to be completely honest with whoever decides to read my forthcoming thoughts: this review will be chock-full of spoilers for Rian Johnson's brilliant sci-fi thriller, Looper.  What I liked and didn't quite like is inherent to the narrative and will thusly contain spoilers.  If you stop reading now, I'm okay with it.  Just go watch the movie instead.  There aren't many better times to be had at the theater this year.

 ***Full spoiler warning is in effect***

Basic plot: Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a "Looper;" he gets paid to assassinate targets sent back in time to him from mobsters in the future.  In the film’s "present" timeline, 2044, time travel hasn't yet been invented.  By 2074 it will be and will also subsequently be outlawed, only used by criminals to dispose of people they wish to be killed.  The problem arises when Joe's target is himself from the future.  He botches the hit and his future self (Bruce Willis) gets away. 

It’s a relatively simple premise that can get bogged down by the intricacies of time travel itself.  Luckily, Looper just grazes the surface on how this film's version of time travel functions; it’s one of my favorite aspects of the film and also one of my least favorite (which will be a running theme for this review).  Two characters in particular, elder Joe and Abe (Jeff Daniels), verbally dismiss attempting to make sense of how time travel works; you just have to accept that it’s possible and that it is happening.  Johnson wants you to just sit back, turn off that part of your brain, and enjoy the fantastic ride that he's built for you. 

The problem, for me, is that that part of my brain didn't quite turn off the whole way.  When you sit down and really think about it, certain aspects start to break down, namely the idea that what physically happens to young Joe directly impacts elder Joe.  If young Joe gets cut on his arm, elder Joe will instantly have a scar.  Similarly, memories for elder Joe become clearer or begin to fade dependent upon how close young Joe is to reaching his preordained future.  I'm more of a fan of the "new timeline" means of time travel; if you go back in time you're altering the flow of history and therefore creating a new timeline altogether.  Your memories remain intact because you lived them, but your younger self will no longer experience those same events because of your time-traveliness.

I understand that's getting a bit nit-picky, but when the central crux of your film begins to break down upon further thought, there might be bigger issues at hand.  Luckily Looper, as a whole, is just so fantastic on almost every level that I can forgive any logical breakdowns in the time-travel-theory at play.  The narrative is simply brilliant with little twists and turns to keep you engaged.  The semi-futuristic Kansas in which the film is set in is just plain fascinating - to the point at which I want to know more.  Why are there people living on the streets?  Who are "vagrants" and why are they named so?  Despite these lingering questions I can't help but feel that Johnson has presented us with a fairly realistic outcome of current society; skyscrapers will look cooler, billboards will feature holographic technology, and our cell phones will be small squares of glass.  With all this tech flying around (as motorcycles can now do), there are still people living on farms (like Emily Blunt's Sara), driving pick-up trucks right out of 2012.  The world that Johnson has built for us is mysterious and familiar at the same time.  And part of me just wants to know more. 

Simply put, the performances on display in Looper are fantastic.  The two Joes are as awesome and badass as one would expect; Levitt gets props for emulating Willis not just in appearance (with help from some incredibly natural prosthetics), but in speech and mannerisms.  If I didn't know any better, I would assume that Levitt is Willis' son in real life.  One of the most compelling aspects of Looper is the relationship between the two Joes.  Young Joe is trying to set things right in his life by finding and killing elder Joe with little or no remorse; to him, elder Joe has already lived his life and should "just die."  Elder Joe, however, voluntarily went back in time after witnessing his wife's unintentional murder.  His only goal is to stop a murder madmen known as the "Rainmaker" by killing him/her as a child.  Both men are hellbent on achieving their objective, with elder Joe performing a pretty heinous deed.

The rest of the cast is as top-notch as the two leads: Emily Blunt is fantastic as the aforementioned farm owner; from the first shot of her first scene she comes across as intriguing and inexplicably compelling.  Her strength as a character builds in conjunction with the burgeoning romance between her and young Joe. Jeff Daniels doesn’t get that much screen time as the mysterious Abe – the man sent back in time to control the Loopers – but is mysterious, enthralling, and screen-grabbingly villainous.  To tie back into the theme of this review, I loved his character and what little information we’re given about him; his backstory isn’t inherently important to the narrative and therefore we’re given little to nothing about who he is.  At the same time I wanted to know more about him. 

Of all of these fantastic performances (Garett Dillahunt has a minor but important role and is great as always), the performance that surprised me the most was of Sara’s son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon).  His role was kept out of the trailers for good reason.  He’s the linchpin of the entire narrative, and as such, for a child actor, does a pretty bang-up job.  Most of the time children in movies bother me (the kids in Signs and Brothers jump to mind immediately), but Pierce balanced malevolence and child-like naivety incredibly well.

I could honestly keep talking about Looper for several more pages.  It has an incredibly layered and complex sci-fi narrative that few films attempt to achieve (Lockout, I’m looking at you).  The world-building that Johnson pulls off is nothing short of astounding; you immediately feel comfortable yet kept at a distance by some of the dramatic changes (10% of the population having telekinesis, for one) in the world that we know.  While Looper may not be my favorite film of the year, its damn near the top of my list.  I really cannot recommend it highly enough.
Looper is an incredibly original time-travel drama/action film that raises many more questions than answers.
The Bearded Bullet.


  1. Everybody’s good, the writing is top-notch, and the direction kept me on the edge of my seat, but there was a human element that just didn’t come around full-circle for me. I really liked this movie, but I didn’t love it and that’s a bit disappointing considering all of the hype. Good review Kyle.