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The Problem with Time Travel: “Looper” (2012, dir. Rian Johnson)

I am going to keep this review spoiler free. *pinky promise*

Rian Johnson’s third feature film**, “Looper”, is a film that can only be described as tragically okay. It isn’t good enough to be great; neither is it bad enough to be terrible. It manages to fall decidedly into the middle as a movie that is entertaining enough, but falls short of being anything remarkable.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a Looper. The concept is deceptively simple: in the year 2042 time travel has not been invented, but in the year 2072 it has; in the future, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, they send them back in time and an assigned Looper kills them. The catch is the exit clause in the Looper’s contract: when the mob is finished with you they send your future self back in time and you have to kill them; you then are free to take the money you’ve earned and live your life however you want — until the mob sends you back in time to be killed, that is.

“Loopers tend to not be the most forward thinking people,” remarks Joe.

I find this concept very interesting. Are you willing to kill people, earn a lot of money, finally end your career by killing yourself, and then live your life knowing how you will ultimately die?

Putting some simple logic into this, however, will reveal the issue: I’m a Looper, I’m a trained killer, I know that at some point in the future someone is going to attack me, send me back in time and I am going to be killed by me. If I have this knowledge wouldn’t I put my effort towards stopping my own death thus creating a time-paradox?

Looper tries to find a solution to these problems but stumbles when it does so, ends up at a finale that tries to be meaningful but ultimately feels unsatisfying, and creates more problems than it started with.

The ending tries to feel meaningful by neatly tying together two plot threads that have been setup throughout the film (one involving the older Joe, the other involving a woman and her son that take in the younger Joe), but raises questions that with only a slight amount of thought leave your scratching your head. The film logically destroys itself in its final moment, and because of this the plot feels unconvincing.

From a technical standpoint the film is well photographed, but the editing is loose and disorienting at times. When I find myself sitting in a theater watching a movie, and I am suddenly painfully aware of the editing, I have to ask why. The answer is twofold: 1) technically something is not right, and 2) the story isn’t engaging enough for me to  just not care. Also, while I understand that the film was made on a limited budget, I found some of the special effects to be alarmingly bad; especially those effects that deal with a hover-bike.

On the performance side of things: Bruce Willis doesn’t really have anything to do other than swear and shoot people (which he’s good at, of course), and Gordon-Levitt does an admirable Willis-impression and once again manages to impress with his acting skills. But the real star of the show is Pierce Gagnon who plays a little boy named Cid. In one scene Cid and young Joe (Levitt) are sitting at a dinner table in the middle of the night, and Gagnon, while speaking about his character’s mother, remarkably steals the scene; in another scene between Cid and his mother Sara (Emily Blunt), Gagnon shows a subtly of emotion that is surprising given his young age.

Early on in the movie I caught myself thinking: “This is my generation’s Blade Runner.” But by the time the ending was nearing all I could think was: “Twelve Monkeys was better.”

Looper is a film with an interesting concept that meanders in the middle section, and instead of reeling us back in with a killer finish, seems to throw away its concept and devolves into a mindless action film that only manages to frustrate with its abandoning of its own rules. The film is entertaining from the standpoint of its exciting action, but a letdown from the standpoint of how its interesting concept is poorly handled. The film manages to neither overly impress or overly disappoint; it only manages to fall distinctly in the middle.

If you go into the film wanting to see Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt shoot up a bunch of guys real good, then this is the place to go. But if you’re looking for an intelligent time travel story then move along, you’ll only end up disappointed.

**Rian Johnson’s two earlier films are “Brick” (2005), and “The Brother’s Bloom” (2008).

Here is the trailer on YouTube


Director Rian Johnson just did an extended Q&A online, check it out here *MASSIVE SPOILERS by the way*: http://io9.com/5949973/looper-director-rian-johnson-is-live-on-io9-and-taking-your-questions
There’s some really interesting stuff in there, and while I won’t begrudge Johnson his success or ability as a filmmaker, I do still have questions regarding the film’s ending. But, alas, I didn’t get to ask him a question! Once again, though, there are massive spoilers in that Q&A, so tread carefully!


About Andrew Bacon

A home school student turned filmmaker. A filmmaker turned film-blogger. A film-blogger who wants nothing more than to be a filmmaker. Mostly though, I just like movies.


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