- Title: Looper
- IMDB: link
Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), Looper gives us a time travel story that focuses on how far a man will go to protect his future, and how far the world will go to stop him. In the year 2072 time travel has been outlawed but is still used by gangsters and shady corporate big wigs who send their victims back in time to be killed in the days before the invention of time travel by hired assassins known as Loopers, thus creating the perfect crime.
The film centers around the actions of a single Looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose largely empty life is filled by bad diner coffee, learning French, doing lots of drugs, shooting hooded strangers who suddenly appear in an empty field and disposing of their bodies, and carrying a torch for a stripper (an alluring, and scantily clad, Piper Perabo) who cares only for his money. In other words, his life is perfect (for what he wants out of life – money, women, and drugs), at least until the arrival of his Loop (Bruce Willis) derails his entire future.
To keep control of the Loopers the future organization eventually sends back their older selves which, after killing (and thus closing their loop) earns them a large payout and a life of luxury for years to come. I’ll admit the logic of this is pretty fuzzy (signing up for a job in which you agree to kill yourself for your employer) but, as the film states, Loopers aren’t exactly the most forward-thinking bunch. Failure to kill the Loop and allow a man with future knowledge to pollute the timestream brings with it hard consequences from Joe’s boss, a mobster from the future (Jeff Daniels), who overseas the entire operation.
Joe’s life is complicated first by he arrival of his screw-up friend’s (Paul Dano) Loop, and then by his own. After failing to kill his older self the first time, Joe tries to stay alive while his older self seeks to prevent the murder of his future wife (Qing Xu) by killing the head of the organization long before he comes to power. Paradoxically, at no point does the older Joe take into account the massive changes he makes to his own history by surviving, thus putting the life of his younger self and his entire relationship with the love of his life in jeopardy.
The film follows the Timecop idea of time travel, with a slight twist. Although the Joe from the future still remembers his own timeline, new actions and damage to his younger self instantly become memories and scars for the older version. As older Joe sets out on his murder spree, culminating in a pretty ridiculous contrived coincidence, the younger version finds himself detoxing on a farm with a single mother (Emily Blunt) and her odd little boy (Pierce Gagnon) while laying in wait for his future self.
Despite delivering an intriguing sci-fi premise, Looper does have some problems. The film’s opening shows us young Joe’s life up until the appearance of his older self before switching to a montage focused on the older Joe’s timeline which allows us to see how he lived his life after killing his older self in the original timeline (as we are shown). Here’s the problem – although older Joe’s arrival causes plenty of trouble for his younger self in this version of reality, there’s no out-of-time precipitating event to change older Joe’s timeline which would then lead to the change in the sequence of his time travel or allow for his survival in younger Joe’s reality this time around. It’s confusing, I’ll freely admit, but it’s also a paradox for which Looper has no answer.
The most obvious issue with the film is the CGI, prosthetics, or mix thereof it uses to make Gordon-Levitt look more like a younger Bruce Willis. It’s distracting as hell and, although it gives the film an odd feel and vibe (by making younger Joe appear not quite human), it doesn’t do much to actually make Gordon-Levitt look like his co-star.
The film’s biggest issues come in its final act. After a pretty good set-up and the unexpected choice of younger Joe continuing to try and kill his older self instead of learning about the future, the story begins to fall apart when it puts the sci-fi story on hold for an age old horror trope (the sub par special effects of which certainly don’t help sell). Add into the fact that the film’s climax forces us to accept an unselfish action from a group of completely self-centered individuals willing to do whatever it takes to protect their interests (as the film is constantly reminding us) and, although clever, the film’s conclusion isn’t really believable.
Gordon-Levitt and Willis play well off each other as different versions of the same character, and Emily Blunt and Piper Perabo (who I will praise for not running away from the nudity required to play a believable stripper and prostitute) both put in strong supporting performances. The villains of the piece are a bit more of a mixed bag. Daniels is fun, if a bit one-note, as the fatherly gangster, but Noah Segan is so ridiculous enough not to look out-of-place in a Three Stooges marathon as one of the lead thugs.
Even with its issues, two-thirds of Looper works well as both an action flick and sci-fi story (if you ignore the paradox of older Joe’s survival and just go with it). It’s not all I hoped it would be, or what it might have been given a few different choices, but the level for good time travel stories for mainstream Hollywood films has been set pretty low in recent years (remember Deja Vu, Men in Black III, and A Sound of Thunder? I wish I didn’t). It should be enough to satisfy most mainstream sci-fi fans.