Movie review: Looper
October 3, 2012
I love a good mind trip. More than that, though, I really love a Bruce Willis flick. Count me in, it matters not volume of bloodshed or the lack of plot. The man does what he does unapologetically, wryly, and usually violently. And if Bruce Willis goes on record saying that Looper is the best thing he’s ever done, then I’m going to be there. That is just what he said, in an Esquire Magazine interview this spring:
“…[Bruce Willis] really wants to talk about Looper, the tale of a time-traveling corporate assassin sent back in time to meet, for lack of a better word (and avoiding a spoiler), his maker. “It’s better than anything I’ve ever done,” he matter-of-facts, as he cuts up the second pear. He legitimately likes the story, the product, the director. “Rian did an amazing thing. He conceived an original story. He wrote it, sold it, stuck with it, directed it, and finished it,” Willis says. “That’s just tough to do in this town. Someone always weasels into the process. That didn’t happen here. And if he never did anything else except that Herculean effort, he’d have made it in the business. Amazing.
“It’s more than an original story. It’s a story people are going to talk about, and see twice. And argue about. I was arguing with myself about the story when I read it the first time. That’s all Rian Johnson, beginning to end. Great, great director.”
After seeing the film with high expectations, I’m not sure that I like Looper better than other Bruce movies (Red and Pulp Fiction were better, for me). The plot is largely laid out in the trailer, with one savory twist in the third act of the film. Actually, this commentary is difficult to produce due to the twisty plot of the movie. That said, I’ll try to give you my take without giving it all away.
Mob bosses use illegal time travel in 2074 to ship their dirty laundry back to 2044 where a looper (paid assassin) waits in a designated space to dispose of the chosen target with a very big gun, resembling a bazooka, called a blunderbuss. Then the body is shoved into an incinerator. Clean for the future mob, easy money for the hired guns of 2044.
The end of a looper’s career is when he shoots his future self and gets a massive gold payout, closing the loop. Therein rests the conflict of Looper. What if you shoot yourself? What if you don’t? Wouldn’t you have to shoot your older self to get to eventually be your older self? And do you loop for eternity that way, always landing in 2044 to be shot by your younger, gun-wielding self?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays our main guy Joe, a young looper raised by the mob from boyhood. As the trailers have indicated, the thickness of the plot develops when Joe encounters his future self. Through this encounter we come to learn that the future is being run by an evil overlord called the Rainmaker. Older Joe is on a mission to prevent the Rainmaker from ever becoming the Rainmaker by killing him, which is the rub of all time-travel stories—you’re bound to dink up the future when playing on the time-space continuum.
The most impressive element of Looper may be in the performance Gordon-Levitt gives as a younger version of Bruce Willis. It’s uncanny how he delivers his lines, mimicking the tone and levity of the elder actor. The makeup and prosthetic nose were at times distracting, but the delivery of the dialogue rarely strayed from Bruce-ness. The most entertaining scene comes when Willis and Gordon-Levitt sit face to face in a diner, arguing about how the old Joe wants to see things happen and how the young Joe is a stupid youth. I can picture myself having a similar argument with my teenage self, but without the organized murder undertone.
The story is more captivating than most anything I’ve seen on the silver screen lately, largely due to the fact it was never a comic book, not a novel, and has no references to vampires or zombies (not that those aren’t great, but they are some tired motifs). As a movie-goer, Looper does represent a growing trend in the antihero category.
All of the lead characters in this movie have gargantuan personality flaws. It’s tough to like the kid we watch blow away a dozen people. It’s tough to like a guy hunting down his future nightmare in the form of a young child. It’s tough to blame him knowing that he had to watch his wife die because of this Rainmaker. Rian Johnson put together a real piece of work, filled with emotion and consternation, which are rare in the sci-fi and action genres.
This movie is complicated and challenging, but not hard to follow. Just perhaps a little hard to watch.