By Gabrielle Bauman
This is one odd little movie.
Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, is based around one basic premise: time travel exists. The year is 2030, and time travel has not been invented yet. But by 2050, it will be –and immediately become so illegal only massive crime syndicates will use it. Joe is a “looper,” a hired gun for one of those syndicates. Early in the movie, we are told that because DNA testing and crime scene science have progressed so far that it’s nearly impossible to hide a body, the need for hit men has become tantamount. Joe is one of those hit men.
His job is pretty easy. He goes to the same place every day at the same time and waits. A person appears out of thin air, and he kills them at point blank range. He disposes of the body. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The basic premise for the movie is intriguing enough, but the route that the movie actually takes is so different than it could have been that it’s almost as if I saw a different movie than in the trailer. I don’t mind, though, since Looper is a fascinating mix of wry self-awareness and morality choices. Also, time travel. I’m a sucker for time travel.
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
The main problem Looper has, and in fact most time travel movies have, is that it doesn’t really hold up to close inspection. None of the time travel really makes any sense, a fact which becomes readily apparent at the close of the film, but the great thing is that Looper is aware of its own ridiculousness.
There are two separate scenes in Looper where one character tells Joe (and the audience) a good rule of thumb while watching any movie that features time travel: “I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.”
Looper is surprisingly funny. Little moments of humor do a brilliant job of breaking up tense scenes, especially the dialogue about time travel. Abe, a character from the future tells Joe that learning French is pointless. Instead, why not go to China and learn Mandarin? Joe replies that he’s going to France. Abe says “I’m from the future; go to China.”
Another scene takes place in Joe’s favorite diner. Instead of drinking coffee by himself like he normally does, now he’s dining with himself. Literally, himself. An older version of himself, looking at his younger self and not thinking very much of him. There’s a missed opportunity here: we could have had an entire movie like this, where a man examines his own past and looks at it with disgust. Of course that premise does not lend well to an action movie, but that still doesn’t stop me from missing the movie-that-could-have-been.
The addition of another science fiction trope — telekinetic powers — pushes the movie-that-could-have-been even further out of the way and turns the movie from a film about the past to a film about childhood. But instead of being another trope in a movie based on a trope, it pokes fun at that trope. Joe explains that when TKs (short for telekinetics) first appeared, they though there would be superheroes. But instead, it’s just a bunch of people levitating quarters in an attempt to woo young ladies.
I usually never have a problem with movies that don’t make any sense sci-fi-wise, as long as they play by their own rules. I could nitpick and whine about timelines and plotting, but since for the most part Looper plays by it’s own rules, I’m not going to.
Part of the reason that Looper is so good is that it brings a completely original story to the table. I can’t just say that Looper is like this movie or another movie, because it isn’t. I, as a moviegoer, have been hungering for something new that wasn’t just rehashing what has already been done, and Looper delivers that much needed originality.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is, as per usual, excellent in this movie, and even Bruce Willis as Older Joe turns in a good performance — which is pretty rare these days. The makeup team deserves an award for turning Gordon-Levitt into a young Willis, though the montage that shows the actual transformation leaves a bit to be desired. Gordon-Levitt’s makeup is eery when both Older Joe and Young Joe are together. One begins to notice the small details: Gordon-Levitt’s nose has been changed, his eyes are different, his eyebrows have been modified.
Looper has been rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
If you are old enough to go see it, I would give Looper an 8/10 stars. An excellent but criminally underseen film just as smart as Inception or Primer, Looper is a movie for anyone who loves both smart storytelling and heart-pumping action.