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Review: Looper (2012)

Looper (2012)

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Premise: In the near future, time travel is used by organized crime to send victims to the past where they are killed and disposed of. The assassins, known as loopers, eventually end up executing their future selves in order to conceal the operation. When an assassin (Joseph Gordon Levitt) faces his older self (Bruce Willis), the older man goes on the run and leads his younger self in a pursuit that upends the entire operation and the future of organized crime.

What Works: Looper is a smart and well-made science fiction film that manages to be as intelligent as it is entertaining. This is a high concept movie but the filmmakers have thought their premise through and matched the novelty of the idea with characters and a story that are equally engaging. Most of the best science fiction films are idea driven and pictures like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Videodrome play out like dramatic thought experiments. Looper has been made with the same kind of intellectual earnestness and the filmmakers use the time travel premise to raise very interesting questions about personal responsibility and ideas about free will. The filmmakers consistently invoke images and scenarios of cyclical systems; in this story the loopers are well-rewarded for their services and the film depicts a subculture of the loopers in which they work by day and spend their earnings by night until one day they are to be sent back in time and killed by their own hand. This idea of self-destructive cycles is echoed throughout the film in other plot points and set pieces and what Looper suggests about human nature is rather dark but the film also offers moments of clarity that make this more than just another sci-fi shoot-em-up. Aside from its thematic content, Looper is also a very well designed production. It takes place in the near future in which urban communities have decayed and are replete with poverty, drug use, and prostitution. The dystopian future is nothing new but the depiction of that future in Looper is done on a credible scale. The problem with the design and art direction of a lot of science fiction films is that they are overdone; the future of Looper is one that is recognizable and that helps sell the illusion of this film. The final element that makes Looper work is its characters and the performances of the lead actors. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis play younger and older versions of the same man and Levitt does a great job imitating Willis, picking up on some of the older man’s nuances and delivery. Bruce Willis is not an actor with a wide range but he does a certain kind of role very well and his performance in Looper is easily one of his best in many years, including his performance in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Looper also has impressive supporting performances by Noah Segan and Paul Dano as a pair of loopers and Emily Blunt as a single mother of a peculiar child. These roles often subvert action movie clichés, with Segan and Dano upending the role of the familiar stone cold assassin and Blunt giving a textured performance as a weathered woman that recalls similar female roles in movie Westerns.
What Doesn’t: There are elements of Looper that don’t make a whole lot of sense if you think about them too hard but that is the case in every movie about time travel. In the case of Looper, the premise of the film describes a future in which murder is almost impossible to commit but somehow a time travel assassination scheme is perfectly plausible. This idea is absurd, especially since it isn’t explained further, but because it is part of the assumption at the start of the film it is much more passable than if the plot tried to introduce it in the midst of the story.

Bottom Line: Looper is a well-made film and one of the better science fiction movies to be released in some time. It is too soon to say if this is a classic but it is a worthy descendant of movies like Blade Runner and The Terminator.

Episode: #413 (November 4, 2012)