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Looper (2012)

December 31, 2012



written by: Rian Johnson

produced by: Ram Bergman and James D. Stern

directed by: Rian Johnson

rating: R (for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content)

runtime: 118 min.

U.S. release date: September 28, 2012


Watching time travel movies requires a certain suspension of disbelief in order to prevent utter frustration. If you can’t get beyond the theories, codes and laws while using (and abusing) the time continuum, then you’re bound to have problems with whatever paradoxes and conundrums show up. Of course, it helps if the movie in this sci-fi subgenre is well-made and has solid actors working from a clever and creative screenplay. Such is the case with writer/director Rian Johnson’s latest film “Looper” a time-twisting, brain-cramping action thriller. He gives the audience quite a ride, offering a dazzling feature that has a complex head with an ample amount of memorable (and disturbing) shocks ands surprises.

Writing about such a film can be quite a challenge though. It can be difficult to explain what transpires in the story, especially if there are legitimate revelations. In that case, it’s best to hold off on full disclosure as “Looper” is best knowing as little as possible before going in. But, oh is it ever worth going in.

Set in the middle of Kansas in the year 2044, several decades before time travel exists. There are those who are aware of its use in the future though, a time where its outlawed. The criminal underworld uses it there for termination, by sending their victims 30 years back in time where an assassin awaits to finish them off and dispose of the body. They’re called loopers. They’re called that because the job comes with an expiration date. At some point, they’ll inevitably receive a severance package delivered to them by their mobster boss in the form of their future self. At that time, the final job is to “close the loop” by killing off their future self, terminating their contract as well.




Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper who is well-aware of the disadvantages of his profession, but chooses instead to relish in the benefits. He lives it up, partying and maintaining a drug addiction (eye-dropping narcotics) while stowing away his silver bar earnings from his kills. He’s also working on his French which will come in handy when he sets off  to Paris one day as his retirement destination.

Things are going well for Joe. He’s favored by his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), who was sent back from the future to oversee the loopers, a relationship that doesn’t sit well with Kid Blue (Noah Segan), an insecure member of Abe’s enforcers, known as the Gat Men. He also has it in good with a showgirl (Piper Perabo) who works at the nightclub Abe runs. But as much as he has his life seemingly in order, things are about to change for Joe. It starts when his panicked friend Seth (Paul Dano), a fellow looper, comes to him asking for help after botching up a job. Seth is in trouble for not closing his loop, which has the Gat Men on his tail. Joe’s effort to help his friend out doesn’t go so well when he decides not to jeopardize his financial safety net instead.

The next job Joe is sent comes without the usual hood covering his head. It’s Old Joe (Bruce Willis), who escapes and embarks on his own secretive mission, determined to protect the life he’s built for the past (or future) three decades. Knowing that the worst thing a looper can do is to let his mark go, Joe sets off to capture his future self and return to business as usual. That’s hard to do when he’s being pursued as well (look for a nice bit part by Garret Dillahunt). Things get even more complicated when the confused Joe hides out at a remote farm inhabited by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon, “The Crazies”). Everything comes to a head when some unforeseen events provide Joe with some crucial decisions to make before his inevitable confrontation with Old Joe.

It may not feel like it, but my summary of “Looper” is primarily spoiler free (the final trailers and TV ads do more damage than I could), leaving you to discover the details from Johnson’s intricately-woven screenplay. While it’s a fascinating and complex story he’s weaving, what first grabbed me was the world-building he’s created and the designs he employs. Although it’s the future, the closest you’ll get to flying cars are hovering motorcycles and even those don’t look all that slick. It’s a future world that is hi-tech yet doesn’t feel like it’s all that far away. From the varying economic classes to the subtle updates in fashion, the world of “Looper” feels just as messy and problematic as the one we live in now.




One particular design that stands out is the looper’s cool weapon of choice. They wield a retro-looking blunderbuss to dispense their arrivals from the future. It’s a messy weapon that’s primarily designed for short-range elimination, giving any dummy a 100% chance of  hitting their target. This being a futuristic time-travel film, you might expect laser-powered handguns or long-range efficient rifles. But the choice of weaponry here is another element added to the idea that this is a lived-in future we can relate to. It also adds more personality and heft to each character. Old Joe carries what looks like a loud Dirty Harry magnum, while Emily Blunt’s Sara brandishes a shotgun like nobody’s business.

All these decisions could be due to Johnson’s budget constraints, but even if such is the case, they’ll all welcome and inventive decisions. What’s more captivating about “Looper” than any spiffy visual effects is how layered the plot is with a turnstile of flashbacks and flash-forwards. There are times when it really is difficult to keep track of everything, but the good thing is that only made me concentrate more on the picture, something that is kind of rare for a modern feature.

This is Gordon-Levitt’s third time pairing with Johnson, having starred in his debut “Brick” and making a brief cameo in his sophomore effort, “The Brothers Bloom”, and at this point, I’d love to see the duo continue working together. The actor, who’s had a fantastic year with “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Premium Rush”, turns in some spectacular work here. Some have balked at the visual assists used to make him resemble a young Willis, but I found them subtle, not distracting in any way. What got me was the uncanny body language and line delivery that we see Gordon-Levitt uses to embody a young Willis. He has the older actor down simply with his attitude and clearly has fun with it.




Speaking of fun, the most entertaining scene is when the two Joes sit down at a diner in the middle of nowhere. Just the concept of an older and younger version of the same character confronting each other is mind-bending, but this scene succeeds because of the way these two interact. Willis’ Old Joe has more experience and can anticipate what his younger self will do, knowing who he was in his past. On the flipside, Gordon-Levitt’s Joe has an open future, he can choose to go down whatever path he wants. Thinking about all the philosophical implications is mind-numbing, making the movie all the more exhilarating. There are many intense scenes in “Looper” but this one is the most memorable.

The role that Blunt’s Sara has to play is quite an interesting one. I won’t go into how it develops, but I will say it’s great to see Blunt committed to such a multi-layered character outside of a drama or romcom. As her young son Cid, Gagnon travels to some cartoony deliver that sort of hiccups the third act of the movie, but it’s nothing damnable. Johnson gives quite a surprise with where he takes Cid at the end, leaving me both grateful and shocked by such an unorthodox climax.

“Looper” is an absorbing watch that will have you leaning in closer. Johnson’s precise and clear vision is one worthy of respect and appreciation. Like Duncan Jones last two film’s “Moon” and “Source Code”, this is sci-fi for the thinking moviegoer. It’s the kind of film that demands repeat viewings, preferably with in the company of others that will elicit endless debates and discussion. “Looper” will satisfy as long as you trust in it and commit to it.




RATING: ***1/2




4 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    December 31, 2012 12:02 pm

    My sister told me this was a really good movie. It’s one I wanted to see, but forgot about in the midst of everything else. Good to know it’s a good movie, I like these kind of films, if they are done well! 🙂

  2. windi permalink
    January 1, 2013 9:49 pm

    watched it on News Years Eve. Great movie to end the year with! I thought it was very well written and acted. I liked how they didn’t try and distract us with outlandish views of the future, considering it’s not set “that” far in, you know? Loved the ending, what a surprise it was! 🙂


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