Unreal Movie Review: Looper

On first glance, it was hard to know what to make of Looper. Despite a past string of action successes, Bruce Willis hasn’t exactly been on fire lately in the genre from Cop Out to Surrogates to a few straight to DVD messes, one of which involved 50 Cent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is of course a recent golden boy in the industry, but he looked and sounded nearly unrecognizable in the film, as he attempted to do his best “Willis 30 years ago impression,” playing a younger version of the veteran actor. And time travel? The very mention of the topic had moviegoers yelling “plot holes ahoy!” far before the film’s actual release.

But it may surprise you that Looper is far better than you might initially assume. Its two leads are perhaps in the best roles they’ve had in years, and director Rian Johnson has created a new genre classic, a time travel movie that…actually makes sense. Well, as much as any time travel movie can.

Johnson is best known for Brick, a low budget high school crime drama also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a script so sharp it practically drew blood by the end of the film. Here, he’s graduated to a Hollywood budget, and made good use of it.

In the future, time travel has been invented, but is immediately made illegal. As such, it’s only used by organized crime syndicates, and only then as a way to dispose of people they want to “disappear” as it’s impossible to hide a dead body in the future. The unfortunate victims are transported back thirty years and placed in front of a Looper, a young man with a shotgun who instantly blows them away and gets rid of the body. It’s a thirty year contract, and at the end of it, it’s the Loopers turn to “close the loop” as they say. One day, the body zapped in front of them will be their own, and they get to live the next thirty years rich, and aware of what’s waiting for them at the end of the line.

Overlooking the fact that using the invention of time travel for the sole purpose of disposing of dead bodies is like just using space flight to dump all our trash on the moon, the universe Johnson has created here is a rather cool one. Outside of the time travel, he doesn’t make the future too ridiculous in 2044, something many films have been prone to do. Guns still shoot bullets. People still wear ties.

The central Looper of the story, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), finds himself in a predicament when his future self (Bruce Willis) escapes his death sentence after he’s transported back to have his loop closed. Young Joe must hunt down himself or risk being butchered by the crime syndicate he works for. Meanwhile, Old Joe is on the prowl for someone else. In thirty years, a child grows up to be ruthless crime boss that devastates the city and orders the closing of all the loops. Old Joe wants to figure out who the boss is in the past, and kill him so his own life is spared from tragedy.

It’s a complex story, as time travel films usually are, but once you’re able to map out the three distinct altered timelines the film puts forth, you’re able to make sense of it without any yawning plot holes. It might take you a half hour after the film to sort it all out, but it does all line up once you really think about it. It’s more Terminator than Primer, let’s say.

The film, though full of solid action sequences and another great script from Johnson, is not without flaws. It starts to drag hard when Joe stumbles his way onto a farm owned by a country girl named Sara (the very English Emily Blunt) and stays there for what seems like way too long. There’s also the fact that a small telekinesis mutation among the population is mentioned briefly in the first five minutes of the film. After that, it’s all but ignored for the next 95% of the movie, until it suddenly becomes the most important thing in the entire film. Time travel movie plots are notoriously jarring, but there are some definite structural problems here.

The film elicits a different performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt than we’ve ever seen before. It would have been easy for him and the director to simply say “eh, he looks close enough,” when casting him as a younger Bruce Willis, but for Looper he underwent hours of make-up each morning to look like the older actor, and has altered his voice so he’s further removed from the JGL we’ve seen in almost every other role. And I suppose if you’re Willis, you’ve earned the right for the younger actor to be made-up to look like you, rather than the other way around.

Looper is slick sci-fi flick that has the added bonus of not being a remake, reboot or sequel, a true rarity in today’s movie landscape. It struggles in parts, but produces solid performances from its leads thanks to a great script and the eye of an up and coming director to watch.

4 out of 5 stars

  • David R

    This movie kinda blew my face off. I was thrown by how quiet it got in the middle-end, but I don’t know if I’d venture to call it a problem, at least not without giving it another watch at some point.

    Other than that, it’s probably the best thing I’ve seen all year. Which, in fairness, isn’t saying just a ton, but it’s worth saying anyway.

  • Filosoraptor

    Another great review Paul. Can’t wait to see it.

  • Tim W.

    I’m a huge time travel fan, but this just did not do it for me. It seemed overly-stylized where it could afford to be, and covered it’s modest budget where it had to, but in a misleading way. I wasn’t expecting half this movie to drag through a cornfield, but that’s what you get when you can only afford enough futuristic city scenes to fill a trailer. Also, Levitt’s make-up seemed like something out of Dick Tracey. I couldn’t get over his putty-chin and nose (and I’m a HUGE fan of physical, practical special effects).

    I was on the fence between seeing this and End of Watch. End of Watch was not screened in advance, and Looper received 3 stars. Shame on me, dated newspaper, I should know better by now than to trust your every judgement. End of Watch may have been predictable, but I would imagine it to be the more entertaining movie the whole way through (plus, Have you seen Training Day and Harsh Times?!). Looper just seemed to hinge on a goofy premise and just went with it to absurdity. I just can’t move past the idea that anyone would have little-to-no trouble shooting themselves past, present, or future.

    Also, I saw this on my birthday and when Bruce Willis shot those kids I thought, “Isn’t this the feel good movie of the season?” Kid-killing is what I want to see on my birthday. Jeez.

    Bruce Willis, that’s the last time you fool me with one of your not-good-enough-for-summer, so let’s dump-it-in-the-fall movies. (I addressed him directly because, c’mon, I know Bruce Willis reads Unreality.)

  • Pakman

    Looper is easily one of the best films out this year. Having not even seen the trailer, I went in with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised as to how many things the film got right.

    There were 3 key scenes that stood out to me, all showcasing a different kind of directing style and emotion. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t, but they involve the following emotions respectively: fear, guilt and happiness.

    The scenes in question are never over nor under stated, as this film manages to find the perfect sweet spot, the fine line in between and delivers a perfect moment for a variety of emotionally charged scenes each and every single time.

    As Mr Tassi also points out in his review, the time travelling plot does also make sense; the film plays by it’s own rules and even has fun with it’s own internal concepts on several occasions.

    All in all, this is certainly a film worth both your time and money.

  • Caleb K

    Looper was rad. The look and atmosphere of a very believable future was well done with nods to Blade Runner, and The Terminator. I loved the weapons, cell phones and designer drug created for this world and was happy to see nothing was too Michael Bay Shiny or featured terrible product placement.
    The editing was superb (best part of the movie in my opinion). J-G-L, Bruce Willis and Blunt were all terrific and whoever cast the child and Jeff Daniels is a genius. Easily two of the best supporting performances of the year.
    My one issue with this film, is the last 3 minutes kind of felt like they broke their own time travel rules established earlier on. The ending just felt a little off to me. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an alternate ending or directors cut when the dvd/Blu Ray arrives. If you like sci-fi hit it up for sure.

  • Henrikus

    It’s true, I love the settings and concepts. Superb acting from JGL and Willis. There’s only one thing which bothers me about the movie. The time travel theory in looper, I’m not sure if it is about the timeline.

    Did the old Joe’s actions will alter the timeline or create a new parallel timeline? In the first scene, they show the timeline where Young Joe (1st) killed Old Joe (1st) and lives in China. I assume they have a parallel timeline since Old Joe (1st) isn’t affected after Young Joe (2nd) didn’t manage to kill him. But Old Joe (1st) is affected when Young Joe (2nd) does another different actions (hence the memory replacement).

    So maybe Old Joe (1st) is still connected with Young Joe (2nd). However it doesn’t make sense that Rainmaker was ‘born’ because of Old Joe (1st)’s action to kill Sara since Rainmaker was on 1st timeline (we don’t know the reason why or how). Old Joe was killed by Young Joe in the 1st timeline, so the Rainmaker isn’t related to Old Joe at all.

    I wish they could have different cut or alternate ending for the movie as well!

  • David Forck

    @Henrikus actually, now that i think about it, I don’t think we’re shown all the timelines.

    Spoilers! beware!

    At the end, Young Joe makes the realization that he’s sitting in front of a closed loop. If old Joe kills the mom, the kid is going to survice and become the Rainmaker, starting everything over. Young Joe decides to open the loop by killing himself and thus killing Old Joe, allowing both the kid and mom to survive.

    Spoilers! beware!