Looper (2012)

22 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I love movies that involve time-travel. You have to shut your mind out to logic and science, and let the paradox elements win you over, if the script is smart enough not to overanalyze them. “Looper,” an especially tricky sci-fi story, does indeed play it smart. Instead of overruling all of the time-travel paradoxes, this film plays off from them and gives us a wild and brilliant sci-fi thriller.

The story takes place in the future. It looks somewhat normal, like a realistic variation of the American present-day, but it wouldn’t be a sci-fi thriller if there wasn’t something wrong (and unusual), now would it? In this case, it’s 2044 and hired assassins called “loopers” are called upon to kill time-travelers. You see, time-travel hasn’t been discovered yet, but it will be, about thirty years later. But it’s illegal and used only by the most powerful criminals (when I say “powerful,” I mean some people have telekinetic abilities in this time period—but face it; they’ve got nothing against the kids in “Chronicle”). A mafia company in Kansas City hires loopers to dispose of agents sent back in time (by their corporate employers in Shanghai). The way it works is; a looper stands at a certain place and time, the time-traveler is put in front of him, and the looper shoots him at close range. In return, they get paid with silver. The main rules—don’t hesitate and don’t let your target get away.

But corporate has a unique way of terminating a looper’s contract, or “closing the loop,” by sending their older versions to be killed by their younger versions (they get paid in gold). This is what leads to the main conflict of the story, in which the best of the loopers, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), doesn’t succeed in assassinating his older self (Bruce Willis).

With young Joe and old Joe now in the same time period and on the run from the mob, they meet in a small countryside diner, where they discuss terms of this truly bizarre situation. This is one of the best scenes in the movie, one of the joys of time-travel in a movie is you can have a scene in which younger and older versions of the same person can have a conversation together. But instead of playing it merely for intrigue, it plays with the reactions and metaphysics of their current position. The result is a deeply effective scene—it’s portrayed in a realistic manner, as is the rest of the movie.

The realistic style of the film’s execution is what makes “Looper” special. It brings about emotional depth, human relations, and a surprising amount of grittiness to the quieter moments. This isn’t one of those time-travel stories in which common twists and turns take place, leaving the plot to be bogged down into overuse of clichéd detail. There’s a genuine richness to the story here. It only gets better as young Joe is forced to hole up in the boondocks with the aid of a strong, independent woman named Sara (Emily Blunt, sporting a more-than-capable American accent), who wields a shotgun and does what she can to keep her five-year-old son safe. She doesn’t trust Joe at first and wants nothing to do with him, but she does help him as long as he helps her from any suspicious visitors…

The problems I have with “Looper” are slight, and no worries about the sci-fi “logic,” because these criticisms have nothing to do with them. It’s just that there are some little inconsistencies and pointless shots that get a little distracting—for example, what was the point of Sara having T.K. if she only uses it once for play? Also, I have trouble with the speech of that little kid Cid—he doesn’t come off as natural; he sounds like a young adult, at least, in a five-year-old body. And the supposed twist approaching the final half of the movie is a letdown because I saw it coming miles away. I won’t give it away, but you can probably guess it as well as I did. A little more development in that area would have created a great flow.

Many time-travel stories wear out by the time their climaxes approach—not “Looper,” however. Instead, “Looper” provides us with a conclusion that pays off from the introduced elements and gives us some real surprises. You care about the outcome, which is important of any sci-fi thriller.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, continuing to show his reputation as one of the best actors of this generation, gives a strong performance as the antihero Joe; tough but likable enough for us to connect with him and root for him. Oh, and I forgot to mention—if Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks just the slightest unfamiliar to you, he was made up to appear as if he were the younger version of…let’s say Bruce Willis. Speaking of which, Willis makes a nice impression as old Joe, mixing humanity with elements of an action-hero. There are times when you may hate him for the things he winds up doing, but strangely enough, you can see why he does them and feel even more disturbed for having understanding. Emily Blunt is more than the “love interest” that her character Sara could easily have become. She brings a lot of weight to her role. Also strong are the performances by Jeff Daniels as the calm mob boss and Paul Dano as a looper who also breaks the main rules.

“Looper” takes the interesting concept of taking the younger and older versions of the same character and have them heading off against each other, and creates with it a powerfully-told tale of time-travel and its effects, while also delivering well-developed characters and plenty of human elements among the action and suspense. It’s energetic, well-told, and interesting from start to finish.

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