Looper Movie Review

[Looper
Written & Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt
MPAA: R – For Strong Violence, Language, Some Sexuality/Nudity, and Drug Content] 
Time travel is always tricky to write about. There are so many factors to keep in check just to make sure it makes enough sense for people to follow, but you still don’t want it to be too scientific with the fear of boring the audience to death with illogical scientific terms. Very few films manage that perfect balance of compelling entertainment and legitimate intelligence with the premise. Films like The Terminator 1 & 2Back to the FutureDonnie Darko, and 12 Monkeys are the most notable examples of films that make it work that come to mind. But when it doesn’t work, it could end up being disastrous (See: The Time Traveler’s WifeSouthland TalesThe Butterfly Effect, etc). 
 
Thankfully, Looper belongs in the former category of films that make it work, and it’s perhaps one of the most compelling time-travel films of all time in terms of just how it ingeniously milks its central premise for all its worth. The film takes place in two different years in the future: 2044 and 2074. In 2074, time-travel has not only been invented, it has been completely outlawed. It’s so forbidden that it’s only used by criminal organizations to remove their targets from the time stream. They’re tied up with a sack over their heads, and sent back 30 years from now where the highly advanced “tags” can’t locate the bodies. Once they’re zapped into the past, a Looper assassinates them and disposes of their body, thus erasing them from time.
 
The movie follows one of these Loopers named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), as he’s living the high life as a successful assassin, but gets into serious trouble when it turns out that someone in the future is “closing loops”; a process that is done by taking the older self of a Looper, and sending him back in time so that the younger version ends up assassinating himself. Joe ends up letting his older self (Bruce Willis) get away by accident in one of these incidents, and…well…I can’t give away anything else.
 
This is another one of those movies where it’s best to go in as clean as possible so that the film’s many surprises can, well, surprise you. But it must noted that you should all be seeing this movie anyway. Looper is everything a time travel film needs to be, but then it ends up becoming so much more as it progresses. It’s intelligent, entertaining, incredibly original, and is still able to make sense within its own internal logic; which is pretty much all that’s needed for a successful time-travel film. What you may not have been expecting, however, are some fantastically-written, sympathetic characters, a plethora of interesting twists, and a surprising amount of emotional resonance. 
 
This emotional resonance would be nothing without the excellent performances to back them up. It’s normally difficult for two actors to play the same person (and even more complicated when those actors actually have to interact with one another), but Joseph Gordon-Levitt totally embodies Bruce Willis’s mannerisms perfectly. And not just that, but he makes Joe’s arc from criminal to hero believable and sympathetic. Emily Blunt is also really good as a mother with a horrific secret that assists Joe, and while the advertising has been really coy about her role in the plot, I’m just gonna say without spoiling anything that she may very well be the most important character in the film.
 
But the real show-stealer in the cast is surprisingly Bruce Willis, who gives his best dramatic performance in years. His character is so interesting and actually really tragic that I honestly wanted the whole movie to follow him. In fact, one of my initial complaints walking out of the film was that not enough of the movie was focused on his character. Willis has a lot of heavy-lifting to do with a relatively small amount of screen-time in comparison to the rest of the cast, and his weary face represents the Older Joe’s tragic story beautifully. Two people on my Twitter feed said that he should be nominated for an Oscar, and while I wouldn’t go as far in hyperbole as that, I also wouldn’t object to it either. He’s fantastic in the role.
 
 
Of course, the writing is the stand-out of the piece. Writer/director Rian Johnson has a playfulness to his screenplays that is distinctly his. They’re very good at subverting the expectations of the genre and flipping conventions on their head. In his debut film Brick, he took a traditional noir story, but made it entirely original and refreshing by setting it in a modern high school. In his follow-up The Brothers Bloom, he made a con-man story that let the audience in on the con only to subvert them and reveal cons within cons in a web of deceit.
 
Here, in Looper, he melds a variety of classic films from Terminator to 12 Monkeys and even The Shining in some regards, to create something that feels wholly original. And not only that, but the movie slyly subverts your expectations on each character’s motivations in increasingly clever ways. To explain them further would veer off to spoiler territory, but I can assure you that you won’t see them coming.
 
With all this praise being said, the movie isn’t perfect. Like I said before, Willis is the most interesting character in the film, but it focuses mostly on Levitt and Blunt’s romance when I felt like there was much more nuance and interesting things going on with Willis. It’s not too big an issue, but I would’ve loved to see more of him.
 
Speaking of Blunt, though, our introduction to her character is a bit on the sudden side. We spend all of Act I following Levitt and his daily routine, then get caught up in a propulsive and thrilling sci-fi story in which he confronts his older self in the form of Willis. But then, Blunt’s character is introduced very suddenly and she just all of a sudden becomes a major player in the events that unfold. Thankfully, when the movie gives her time to develop, the quick introduction is forgiven, but it still would’ve been better if she was introduced more naturally.
 
However, this does lead to my main problem with the film: Act II pales in comparison to the rest of the film. The first Act is propulsively paced, shows off an incredibly interesting futurisitic dystopia of sorts, and it still manages to fit in some moments of nice character introspection. Then, when Blunt’s character is introduced, the movie slows to a halt, and we end up spending more time in an isolated farm in the middle of Kansas and less time in the more interesting future cityscapes. 
 
While I commend the film for giving time for each of the characters to develop, I would’ve liked it to have been done without hindering the film’s sense of flow. I hate being the snooty critic that suggests ways that the director could’ve improved his own work as if I know it better than him, but this problem definitely could’ve been avoided with, oh I dunno, more scenes with Bruce Willis…I’m sorry, I really liked Willis in this movie.
 
These flaws aren’t enough to break the movie, however, and I still strongly recommend it. It’s rare to get an intelligent sci-fi film these days, and even rarer to find one with an R-rating and an aim towards adults.
 
Final Verdict: Looper uses its brilliant time-travel premise to concoct incredible tension, thrilling action, an intelligent story, and memorable characters that you sympathize with. While it drags a bit in the middle, there’s no denying the genius that lies in this film. Looper simply needs to be seen.
 
 
That is all. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can do so by clicking the following links: CinEffect on BlogSpot, CinEffect on Tumblr, my own personal tumblr, and my Twitter account @CGRunyon where you can follow me for more reviews, articles, and other random thoughts about what I like. Also be sure to follow my two friends who help out CinEffect with their own reviews, articles, or podcast cohosting sessions: @TBBucs20 & @ThatGuyBrady.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go back in time and stop myself from eating that bean burrito that gave me serious problems in the bathroom. You’ll know if I’m successful if the world doesn’t end and Tuesday comes after Monday. Bye!

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1 Comment

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One response to “Looper Movie Review

  1. The cast is great, especially JGL who has been having a stellar career so far, but the plot it what really kept me interested as it continued to throw twist-after-twist at me, without any confusion whatsoever. It’s a great sci-fi flick that actually makes sense. Good review.

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