Thursday, October 11, 2012


I’ve always been fascinated with time travel, a concept riddled with problems and paradoxes. Science fiction pieces which use time travel effectively generally establish rules of time travel and stick to them. The story in Looper involves time travel, but time travel isn’t the story, which is wonderfully constructed and filled with compelling characters. It lays out just enough to make sense but not so much that it gets bogged down in the cerebral.

In the year 2074, time travel exists but is illegal, used only by organized crime. Government tracking has made it nearly impossible to dispose of bodies, so the mob sends its living targets back in time 30 years with silver bars strapped to their backs. In 2044, hired assassins called loopers commit the murders, collect the silver, and dispose of the bodies. When the mob wishes to end a looper’s contract, they arrange for him to kill his own future self, freeing him to retire and live out the remainder of his life. When Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) accidentally allows his future self (Bruce Willis) to escape, his situation becomes more complex and dangerous by the minute.

I won’t disclose more of the story than that, because one of the joys of this film is its unpredictability. The plot takes numerous twists and turns, and even minutes from the end, I couldn’t guess what was coming. Writer/Director Rian Johnson has crafted something original and deft. While every last detail of the screenplay might not stand up under strict scrutiny, Looper isn’t one of those mind-benders that invites endless analysis, such as Inception (which after numerous viewings still proves ironclad). Time travel rarely makes perfect sense, so instead of diving in head first, Looper dips partway into complexity and then just takes you for a ride.

Joseph Gordon Levitt proves instantly likable yet again, helping us connect with Joe, a flawed antihero. He kills for money, can’t kick a drug habit, and spends too much time partying at a local club. Bruce Willis was a perfect choice for the older Joe, as he’s another actor with that innate something that makes you root for him right off. Joseph Gordon Levitt wears some effective prosthetics to make him look more like Bruce Willis, but their shared likability does the most to connect the two actors in our minds as the same man thirty years apart. Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, and child actor Pierce Gagnon also turn in fine performances.

Looper depicts the future with impressive forethought and attention to detail. Metropolitan areas look advanced but dirty. The most popular drug of choice is administered as eye drops. Old technology lays alongside new; for every hoverbike, there are a dozen traditional cars. Most older cars have gadgets rigged up to the gas tanks, presumably allowing them to run on alternative fuel, and 10% of the population has some variation of the TK Mutation (telekinesis), allowing them to move small objects through mind power. Overall, Looper achieves plausibility while dealing in time travel and low-level superpowers, an impressive feat.

Given the complexity and layers that unfold, the film’s resolution is admirably simple, almost poetic. Looper is sequel-proof, which puts another tally in its plus column. Hollywood has become increasingly dependent on guaranteed money-makers (anything with a number after its title), allowing for fewer inventive pictures that stand alone. There’s a sizable audience for smart thrillers, and I think Looper’s cleverness and innovation will be rewarded. Most movies choose between action and ideas, but then a movie like Looper comes along and makes having both look easy.

Fun side note:
The club where Joe passes his time is La Belle Aurore, also the name of the cafe where Casablanca’s Rick and Ilsa spend their last day as lovers before she disappears. “I remember every detail; the Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”


For the Parents: 

MPAA: Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content

Looper is violent, with plenty of blood and gore flying around amidst shootings. A young child is killed at one point. Language is strong. A few women appear topless, and the main character battles a drug habit. In short, this isn’t a movie to take the kids to.

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