“We both know how this has to go down… So why don’t you do what old men do… and die.”
Rian Johnson has long been one of the most talented unknown directors out there with his debut film being the incredibly well conceived and executed indie film Brick and his follow up being the underrated film The Brothers Bloom. Johnson looks to make his biggest movie yet with Looper as he reunites with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and tackles the fun, difficult, and complex idea of time travel. Does Johnson succeed in bringing some new ideas to the table or does this time-travel tale fall into trap of convoluted storytelling?
Looper begins by introducing us to Joe(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a looper, a man who kills people sent back in time from 30 years in the future. In the future the mob has a hard time killing people so they utilize the outlawed method of time travel to cover their tracks by sending their victims back in time before they exist. Loopers get to live life large as they are paid handsomely and don’t have to worry about the interference of the law as they are killing people who do not technically exist. The catch is that loopers will eventually “close their loop” by killing older versions of themselves once the mob of the future decides that they are no longer of use to them. Things start to become to get a lot more real for Joe when his friend and fellow looper Seth(Paul Dano) lets his older self get away. Joe tries to cover for Seth by hiding him, but eventually Joe’s boss Abe(Jeff Daniels) is able to talk him down and convinces Joe to turn Seth over. Not long after this Joe’s older self(Bruce Willis) appears as one of his targets without a hood on which causes Joe to hesitate. Old Joe gets away, but the two eventually reunite in a diner they are both familiar with. In what is possibly one of the strongest scenes in the entire movie, the two confront each other as old Joe tries to convince young Joe to skip town and leave him to work. Eventually the two both lay their cards on the table and a really cool fight ensues. Once the two separate the movie slows down as the movie begins setting up for some truly tough and thought provoking moral dilemmas that will challenge both versions of Joe.
I’m a huge fan of time travel movies; good, bad,or ridiculous. If the movie involves time-travel I am almost always interested even if the time travel doesn’t make sense or the movie itself is bad. Looper is very exceptional among time-travel movies because on more than one occasion the movie insists on not trying to worry so much about all the ins, outs, and logic of time travel. The storytelling in this movie is very creative as it utilizes time-travel just enough to be cool, but not so much that it is convoluted. Despite the very creative ways this movie uses the concept, it really isn’t about the time travel as much as it is about Joe facing the version of himself who has been around the curb and see things that he believes young Joe needs to see and experience. Old Joe has an agenda that he believes he must carry out while young Joe is just trying to kill old Joe so that he can get back to the way things were. The story is actually something that I found to be very fresh as I was constantly finding myself being surprised by what the story had to offer. The pacing is absolutely wonderful as each of the very distinct three acts build off each other and eventually lead to an incredibly shocking and emotionally powerful yet satisfying ending. This movie is very smart and clever which puts itself a step higher than many time travel movies, and I personally find it to be just as creative and interesting as other classic time travel movies like 12 Monkeys, The Time Machine(1960), and the original Back to the Future.
The heart of Looper really is story about Joe who begins this movie as a very self-centered, greedy, and overall selfish person who wants lots of money so that he can do whatever he wants. As the story develops and the movie advances Joe slowly but sure begins to develop and grow even if it is in small but subtle ways. What is really interesting is when Old Joe is developed in a very creative and unexpected way as we get to see exactly what drives him and motivates which actually is exactly what deeply contrasts him from his younger counterpart. The two versions of the character and what separates the two develop beautifully which makes the ending of the movie incredibly hard to swallow no matter how you look at it. Old Joe is convinced that he knows what’s best because he has been to places he knows will make Joe a better person, but young Joe doesn’t care about the future because he simply wants to live in the present. Eventually the movie begins getting into some of the ethical questions surrounding time travel and I find it very interesting to see how at two different points in life that Joe has two different ideas of what is right and what is wrong with neither version of the character being declared as morally superior to the other. There end up being some difficult questions raised at the end of this movie with nobody being portrayed as the real good guy or the bad guy. This is evidence to me that the character work in this movie is vastly superior to the work done in other movies in the same genre.
While Bruce Willis is always great, the real star is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who does an absolutely outstanding job playing a younger version of Joe played by Bruce Willis(try and wrap your mind around that). Gordon-Levitt is able to nail down Willis’s mannerism with mastery and the performance is something that very few actors could manage to pull of as you really do forget any other role Gordon-Levitt has played in contrast to his work in Looper. I think its also worth noting that the makeup for this movie is really well done despite what has been the general impression I have had based on the trailers. There are moments when I was absolutely shocked at how much they were able to make Gordon-Levitt look like Willis. The supporting cast for this movie is solid as Jeff Daniels plays a very likable yet menacing crime lord who simply wants to make sure everything goes as planned and Emily Blunt as a farmer who looks out for her son who has special needs and young Joe when he eventually wanders onto her farm. While it would have been nice to see Paul Dano get a little more time as Seth, the supporting cast was mostly well used.
Rian Johnson is the writer/director and he delivers a movie that is truly cut from a different cloth as it brings such a unique take on concepts and ideas that have been done before in sci-f movies. Johnson has certainly brought something new to the table by exploring some of these ideas in ways that have not been done before. Johnson decides not to follow movies like Primer which explore all of the logistics of time travel, but focuses more on the ethical questions that time travel could bring up. Johnson delivers a tight script that asks us as the audience not to worry as much about how time travel works as much as it asks us what could happen if it existed and what it could mean for us. If you could go back and time and kill Hitler should you? Is killing a man before he commits a crime ethical even if he hasn’t done it yet? If you could go back in time and warn yourself or try to fix something, should you? How will that impact the outcome of who you are? These are just a few of the ideas explored in the movie, and while they have been thought about and looked at in film before, they haven’t been in the way that Johnson presents them. Johnson manages to sell the concept, sells the human connection by writing such an emotionally charged characters, and manages to deliver on a technical level as well. This movie is incredibly well done for a film that only costs $30 million dollars as it looks better than many movies that cost triple that amount of money. Johnson manages to lure you into the movie and immerse you in the reality he has created with great cinematography and great set design. Johnson has made great movies before Looper and it is nice to see exactly what this young writer/director can do with a larger budget. Johnson is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors and his creativity is something reminiscent of the directors that came out of the 70s such as Spielberg, Scorcese, or Gilliam.
Overall Looper is one of the most creative pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in a while. It manages to be very smart and clever with the concept while still giving us a great character story at its core. It succeeds at fleshing out and exploring the ethical implications of time travel and doesn’t offer answers which will certainly leave audiences with something to think about for months to come. The movie delivers on practically every level and most of all delivers an ending that feels shocking yet emotionally satisfying.
The base concept of this movie feels very new and fresh, but most importantly it really works. While specifics about how time travel works is not something the movie delves into, the story that spawns from this idea is very compelling. The movie was well paced despite a slower second act, and the movie builds to a truly ethically challenging and emotionally shocking yet satisfying ending.
Looper packs a real punch in terms of both acting and character writing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in an excellent performance as a young Bruce Willis while the supporting cast does a great job with their smaller roles. The movie explores Joe in some very interesting ways by having two version of him with the older version played by Willis shedding some light on who young Joe has the potential to be. This film has very well rounded characters that at the end of the day you can’t help but care about.
Rian Johnson delivers his best film yet by bringing some new ideas to the table while also re-exploring some age old ideas on time travel. His style feels cut from a different cloth yet somewhat reminiscent of great science-fiction stories that have come before it. His script is tight and emotionally charged by his well rounded characters and their interaction. He turns in what may be my favorite movie so far this year.
Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 10
This movie works on various levels because of its characters, great story, cool ideas, and even tough ethical questions. Johnson has crafted a story that cuts much deeper than your average trip to the movies. Because of this I would actually recommend this to anyone who is interested in great and creative storytelling. What Johnson achieves here should be viewed by more than just fans of science-fiction, and it would be a shame to be a fan of movies and not catch the creativity and excellent craftsmanship that clearly went into this film.
Overall Score: 10