Film Reviews

Looper Rian Johnson

Rating - 6/10

Writer-director Rian Johnson's latest dystopian science fiction flick, Looper, is a conflicted experiment, which sets itself up to be a stylistic modern classic but stumbles greatly in its latter half with incredible pacing flaws before finding redemption within a fulfilling conclusion.  Strengthened by the faithful leading performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt fitted with make-up to more closely resemble his co-star Bruce Willis, as the same character, Joe Simmons, their interactions at different life stages command the plot involving time travel.  Although it will be invented thirty years from the film's origins in 2044, the advancement will be outlawed immediately, as Young Joe explains via voiceover in the opening minutes.  Of course the possibilities of time travel in 2074 will be exploited by the mob and a mysterious leader known as "The Rainmaker," who hire specialized assassins called "loopers" to carry out executions in the past and eliminate certain time paradoxes involving themselves.  In fact, Joe is part of this operation.  Many of the on-screen executions in Looper take place in rural America; contrasted with the predominant urban nightlife of the its former half, the film attempts broader appeal by upturning conventions of artistic futurism that numerous movies and games have too often fetishized since Blade Runner set the template.  This fact paired with the "white knight" determinations of both Joes, Young and Old, to protect their cherished women and determine if a certain boy may be the key to preserving a future outcome, it also wouldn't be a stretch to call Looper a twist on The Terminator timeline or "cowboy neo-noir."  Beyond its logic, flaws accumulate around the lopsided focus of Bruce Willis in the future and Gordon-Levitt in the present, where much of the potentiality of their interactions actually remains hidden.

A smoky calm of voiceover narration from Young Joe settles over Looper's first half, modifying modern audiences' grasp of culture with rustic fashions, altered machinery/technology (cars and guns creatively modified from preexisting designs in 2012- probably necessary from a budgetary standpoint), and futuristic lingo ("TKs" for ten percent of the population affected with a telekinetic mutation, "closing the loop," "letting your loop run," etc.).  Also defined by sleek, kinetic loops of activity that span days and years, Joe is portrayed as a highly successful tradesman addicted to some designer eye-drop drug.  The broadly scoped civilization around him, which is only directly confronted briefly, though, seems to be the more fruitful basis for a story, where a remarkable few are monetarily benefiting at the expensive of everyone else.  Instead of emphasizing the means for collective survival, Looper bothers with a man's colliding past and future tenses of self.  It makes for an unusually entertaining character study, certainly, but it neglects visible ethical questions that go largely unexplored.  Even this unique divergence of the self is dulled by erratic time intervals; Looper quickly introduces a scrappy Young Joe who coolly elaborates upon the world; a small thread then evolves as he ages to Old Joe and finds love in Shanghai, China; finally, in the sprawling arc that essentially halts the film, Young Joe lands on an alternate path in the fields of Kansas where he meets sugar cane farmer Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon).  Johnson provides little to no insight on the relationship of Old Joe and his unnamed Chinese wife (Qing Xu).  Only hints of their blossoming romance linger in a decade-spanning montage and a tense meeting between the two Joes in a diner.  The intimidation game resembles the clever anti-face-off between Neil and Vincent in Michael Mann's Heat, as Old Joe tries to stick it to his younger self with the confession, "She's going to clean you up."  However, it is not convincingly fleshed out, nor is a similar expression from Young Joe's personal commander, Abe (Jeff Daniels), who repeats his own influence on Joe in so many vague terms.

These dichotomous paths and settings would seem to imply that Johnson once conceived Looper as a two-part television series; instead of realizing a full-blooded action movie with an unrelenting pace and unique hip flair or one that may have run to an admittedly bloated 160 minutes and possessed a Terrence Malick sort-of pastoral poetic gravity, the writer-director merges the two methods.  The streamlined sort of lore surrounding Looper is refreshing and prompts a dynamic narrative in its early stages; but other scenes, particularly ones that contain leaden revelatory monologues that replace voiceover in the second half- from Young Joe to Cid as well as Sara to Young Joe- evoke classic groans of "show, not tell."  Yet, in the end, Johnson's earnestness benefits the production with a perseverance of character instead of gadgetry or moody locale.  In a Hollywood Reporter interview, he told Borys Kit that the film was intended to focus on "how characters dealt with the situation time travel has brought about" rather than the concept itself.  The biggest hurdle was "figuring out how to not spend the whole movie explaining the rules and figure out how to put it out there in a way that made sense on some intuitive level for the audience; then get past it and deal with the real meat of the story."  His considerations are admirable but can't avoid a disjointedness that ultimately prevails in the current cut of the film.  While subverting inevitable expectations and building an intelligent foundation, conventions or platitudes of genres undoubtedly pervade and retain the heroic image of Joe at the expense of all other characters.  Looper may not win awards for the best film of the year, but its convincing performances and courage to put a little agrarian spin on the futuristic formula of time travel lend it unique character.