Looper was written and directed by Rian Johnson, whose previous films include Brick (2005), The Brothers Bloom (2008), and two episodes of the TV series Breaking Bad. Having only seen Brick, which wasn’t the most exciting or well-constructed film, I responded to Looper‘s widespread acclaim with apprehension at first. I now know that this praise is well-deserved. Looper is a great sci-fi movie and, more importantly, an original one, something that’s damn hard to come by in this post-Alien, post-Matrix world. Looper joins the likes of Sunshine, Moon and District 9, all films that have helped define modern sci-fi cinema.
The year is 2042. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Bruce Willis, that is, Bruce Willis plays the older version of Joe. Not Joe as in ‘Joseph Gordon-Levitt’ Joe, but the character of Joe in the… movie. Look. This is a film about time-travel, it’s going to get wobbly. As Old Joe says to his younger self “it doesn’t fucking matter!” So, with that in mind, lets start again.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe. Joe is a Looper, a special type of hitman. Loopers wait in designated areas, blunderbuss’ raised, for their bosses from the future to send their targets back in time. As soon as these targets appear, the Loopers shoot to kill, collect their payment and dispose of the body. !Disclaimer! if you’re the type of person who goes looking for plot holes in movies like this, then sit the hell down. “Why don’t the future people just zap whoever they want dead into a furnace? Weigh them down and zap them into the ocean?” These sort of questions are irrelevant because they can all be answered with “well then this movie wouldn’t exist at all because Loopers wouldn’t be needed, and if this movie doesn’t exist then your complaint would be the mutterings of an insane person. So we have a paradox on our hands, are you happy now?” I’ve been led to believe that paradoxes are pretty dangerous so for the love of god please stop asking these kind of questions.
Everything goes to hell when Joe is faced with the task of ‘closing his loop’. And no, that doesn’t mean he has to look into advanced diabetes technology, it means that his future bosses will at some point send back Joe’s older self, in order tie him up as a loose end. Young Joe gets a lot of money for killing himself, and has thirty years to spend it all before he himself gets sent back to be shot by his younger self, who then gets a lot of money and gets to spend it for thirty years until he himself gets… you get the idea.
Johnson’s vision of the future is presented subtly; it’s believable. The world is different but not that different. Their cars look like our cars except for the solar panels strapped lazily across the bonnets. Weapons seem to be exclusively called ‘blunderbusses’ and ‘gats’, a primitive shotgun and a big-ass revolver respectively. People use eye drops to ‘drop’ and get high. Telekinesis exists but it’s only good for cheap tricks like making coins levitate. Our introduction to this world is beautifully efficient. There’s no exhaustive exposition like Inception and no “this is the future! Look how wacky it is!”. It just is and so can afford to quickly move on without the audience being burdened with confusion. There’s a lot of iconic imagery to be found here, and I don’t think it will be long before I start seeing certain plot-important objects displayed on tshirts.
Looper has some amazing action sequences and some rather unique camera work to compliment them. The performances are good among the adults, but one little boy steals the show. I won’t talk about him too much for fear of ruining things, but wow was he impressive. There is the issue of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s make-up that was used to make him look more like Bruce Willis. After watching the trailer I thought it looked so odd that I wouldn’t be able to ignore it, but it turns out I could. It’s bizarre, but not worth dwelling on.
As with most modern sci-fi, Looper is not without its flaws. For the most part the script is good, especially when it comes to explaining how this particular version of the future functions. Where it falters is in its character moments. During the films few relaxed conversations, where we’re given back story or character motivations, I ended up frustrated at how empty it felt. It simply failed to interest me, which was disappointing. There are also some pacing issues; the troublesome second act dragged a little too much for me to be able to ignore it. The tone changes quite abruptly from time-travelling fugitive on the run to a mix between The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense. In the end this shift pays off, but the transition is undeniably jarring. The ending is a mixed bag. It satisfied me in terms of plot, but the last minute or so was bewilderingly awkward. When the credits rolled there was an unspoken but collective ‘huh?’ that permeated the cinema I was in. I don’t think this was a response to the plot, but rather to the way it just kind of trails off, there’s no definitive final shot. I’m not suggesting that all sci-fi movies should end with an infinitely spinning top, but it really could’ve used something a little punchier.
It’s not perfect but Looper remains a fantastic, original time-travelling romp. The mechanics may strain under scrutiny, but as far as paradoxical plot holes go, it’s pretty solid. These days it’s rare for a movie to show you something you’ve never seen before and Looper manages to do just that.
4 out of 5
“Shut your fucking child mouth.” – Old Joe