First thing, if you haven’t seen Brick, stop reading this and go watch it. If you have seen Brick, stop reading this and go watch it again. Great, now that you’re back, you’re welcome and let’s continue.
Looper is the third film from writer/director Rian Johnson, who blasted onto the indie filmmaking scene with the aforementioned Brick, creating an instant stir and a huge level of expectation for future projects. He followed it up with The Brothers Bloom, a quirky and more humorously emotional film than his debut. Four years later, we finally get the next volume in Johnson’s catalog, and many of us have been waiting with baited breath.
Looper is a sci-fi time travel tale about an assassin in the not-too-distant future who kills people sent back to him from the slightly-more-distant future. This cold-blooded killer, Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is known as a Looper, and he knows one day the person sent back to die will be himself, thereby closing the loop. Yet when faced with the older version of Joe (Bruce Willis), the present-day version fails to get the job done and begins a harrowing chase to settle the score and figure out why the future version of him wants to live so badly.
The description is above is fully accurate, but it leaves out a huge plot point in the story because it’s a spoiler. So if you don’t want to know any more about the film, stop here and come back when you’ve seen it for yourself.
OK, now that you’ve been warned (SPOILERS AHEAD, second and last warning) here’s the rest. Willis comes back hunting for a mythical mobster from the future called The Rainmaker, who in his time period is closing all the loops en masse. He is also partially responsible for killing Willis’ future wife, something Willis is determined to fix in the past by finding and killing The Rainmaker as a child.
The biggest problem with Looper overall is both plot descriptions are true, but they could be entire movies on their own. Tied together into one script the balance between the two is shaky. For the first half of the movie it is nearly all about Levitt versus Willis in a game of cat and mouse, all while trying to avoid the present-day mafia who are trying to kill them both. Yet somewhere around the halfway mark, the movie slows down considerably while we dive into the deep end of the pool with the Rainmaker storyline, with added performances from Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon on a random stretch of farmland.
Script issues aside, there is always going to be a debate on the topic of time travel and how it plays out in the film. In this realm, Johnson tosses the logic and technology of it out the window with pleasant abandon, even having Willis yell out in a critical scene, “It doesn’t matter!” For me it was a nice touch and should be heeded by future filmmakers who dare to use time travel as a plot device. Don’t get bogged down in the details of how it works (because in the end, it doesn’t).
The performances are also worth mentioning here with a special nod to the makeup department. Levitt underwent a truly amazing and subtle transformation into a younger version of Willis, and it definitely had an effect on not only how he played the character, but how the audience reacts to him. Levitt is reaching a level of star status that will soon overcome his on-screen characters because we will all know exactly who he is (currently known as the Tom Cruise effect), but with the slight manipulation of Levitt’s face, it was almost hard to remember it was actually him on screen. He delivered the same quality and intensity we have become accustomed to, and that helps buoy the film during the slower portions. Also, Pierce Gagnon is incredibly intense for such a young kid. Keep an eye on him if they ever do another sequel to the Children of the Corn franchise. He’d be a shoe-in.
In an overall look back, there is a moral question that pervades the film and strains to link the two stories, but both weren’t necessary to answer it and a strong choice as to what the film was really about would have simplified it and delivered a much stronger final product.