Looper: The Mostly Spoiler-Free Review

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

All my science-fiction writin’ friends are in love with Looper, and it’s easy to see why: Looper isn’t a movie.  It’s a science fiction book that’s been filmed.
See, the plots of movies are like a snake eating itself: the first half sets up all the elements in the movie – all the characters, mysteries, and plot points – and then you hit the tipping point and the movie spends the last half tidily wrapping up each element that it’s introduced.  They usually shift the third act to a new location just so this pattern isn’t quite as evident… but once all the elements have been touched upon, the movie is over.  Roll credits.  It’s satisfying, but it’s also predictable – nothing wrong with a good formula, but you can use it a little often.
Whereas Looper is a lot like an Alfred Bester novel.   It’s still introducing new concepts and mysteries when you’re halfway through the movie, and they turn out to be central to the plot.  There are a lot of side journeys and toss-off concepts that aren’t wrapped up in a tidy way.  Things are very messy, which makes Looper as unpredictable as a spitball.
That doesn’t mean it’s the best sci-fi movie ever, or even the best time-travel movie starring Bruce Willis meeting his younger self, but the novelty makes it something far fresher than the usual slew of pre-fabbed films.
The trick of Looper is that time travel has been invented, but it’s instantly outlawed.  The mafia sends people back in time to be killed – it’s explained that technology has advanced to the point where they can’t hide a body in the future – and quite often, the Looper-hitmen are assigned to “close the loop” and kill their future selves.  As Loopers are chosen from a bunch of hedonistic junkies, this is approached with a cynical fatalism – hey, I’ve got thirty years to party!  And those who are weak and let themselves go encounter horrible, horrible fates as the Mob chases both of them to ensure that the future isn’t changed.
That’s the first sign of how unpredictable Looper gets.  In any other film, the shocking twist that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has to kill his older Bruce Willis self would be the unique factor – he’s the only one who’s ever had to murder himself!  Why?  But making the self-destruction mundane is just one of Looper’s many hidden tricks.  This subtle bit of worldbuilding actually makes things far better.  If this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, then Young Joe would immediately sympathize with Old Joe and they’d team up to get revenge.
But no.  Young Joe is infuriated by the way that Old Joe is fucking with his life now, sees Old Joe as greedy and selfish (which, yes, they both are) for not succumbing to the fate that he signed up for, and so the two of them are at odds throughout the film. They don’t like each other.  They shouldn’t.  Even though they’re the same person, they have entirely different agendas.
The acting is also top-notch.  The makeup to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like Bruce Willis is a little intrusive at times, making him look a tab Kabuki, but both actors meld – you’d expect Bruce Willis, being the big star here, to be just Bruce Willis, but no, Bruce takes on just enough of JGL that it’s not quite the Die Hard of the Future.
Now, Looper has some serious flaws.  People have called it an internally consistent time travel movie, which it most certainly is not – it’s the usual messiness of multiple futures, not quite explained.  And while the characters are wonderfully defined and acted, their ends are not often well thought-out – Jeff Daniels plays a mob boss with such a beautiful affability I wanted to watch him all day, but in the end his character is almost literally discarded. If it was a book, it’d probably be a B-grade book – lots of great ideas, a weakish plot.
But as a movie, Looper is something interesting and new and worth watching just for a fresh take on cinema.  I liked it an awful lot.  I’d encourage you to go see it, if you like time-travel films.
 
 
 

1 Comment

  1. Marc
    Oct 4, 2012

    Saw it yesterday, honestly I liked it, it’s original and the time travel is internally consistent.
    What I think is not consistent is mainly the ending. When you establish an universe where time traveling can actually change reality without any paradox problem you can’t use the cyclical version of time travel, where the time traveler causes the very future he wants to advert. I can admit that’s is an elegant ending but it’s not consistent.
    Another minor point is how in the future where supposedly it’s incredibly hard to kill people we see Bruce Willis happily tossing grenades around,,,

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