Review: Looper
Looper is a movie that tries to carry the burden of many different sci-fi tropes simultaneously: there's time travel, a dystopian future, superpowers, hitmen, potentially evil children, and Bruce Willis. The script strains to support the weight of these elements and in many ways is successful, and yet in many ways it is not. Looper centers around Joe, played by the often distant Joseph-Gordon Levitt, as a Looper. In the future, where time travel has been invented and outlawed, the mob sends back in time the people they want dead for the Loopers to kill. In the future a new mob boss is sending back the now older loopers to off themselves, or close their loop. Joe's older self, Bruce Willis, returns and escapes, setting off a chase between Joe's young self and his older self.

Neither role allows the performer to explore Joe fully, or to reflect the changes that this supposedly older Joe has undergone from his younger self. Both Willis and Levitt play blank eyed killers who's motives seem to never go deeper than avoiding the next explosion. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film is that it's morality is murky, to the point where discerning the villain becomes a puzzle in and of itself. Is it Abe (played deviously well by Jeff Daniels), the boss of the loopers in the present, sent back by the mob bosses of the future? Is it young Joe looking to kill is older self? Old Joe looking for revenge at any cost? Or a child who might grow up to become something terrible? The answer at any one moment seems certain, until something turns our understanding on its head.

Another high point in the movie comes when the two Joes sit down at a rural diner and try to parley. It's a taut scene that mixes the barely contained violence of Quintin Tarantino's razor sharp scenes in Inglourious Basterds with the bizarre external self reflection offered by Moon. Yet instead of fully examining a premise that is just begging for some philosophical weight, the truly fascinating parts of Looper are dropped as bullet's fly and the chase resumes. Beyond failures in the art design (the year is 2072 and flying motorbikes are mixed in with Miata's and Toyata Tundras) and in the make-up (in an attempt to make Levitt look more like Willis some prosthetic was added to his brow, only causing the character to look more vapid) the real failure here lies in the inability to ask any central question, and in its disinterest in the search for answers. The older and younger Joes treat each other largely as strangers instead of trying to understand each other as versions of themselves, and the change in morality of each hitman is treated with only the lightest touch. Questions of destiny are brought up, forgotten, and mishandled, and love is treated as a plot device and not an idea worth exploring.

As a result the mixture of so many elements keeps Looper from being a complete re-hash of any one sci-fi movie, but the combination should create something greater than the sum of its parts and it does not. This is not to say the movie isn't worth seeing; the action is intense, and the final climax is something to behold. It is a film that in some places can take your breath away and in others leaves you unsatisfied. The scene in the diner offers a perfect example. Young Joe asks his older self about time travel. Old Joe says, "Don't ask about it." In many ways this is the filmmaker (Rian Johnson, who previously directed Brick and The Brothers Bloom) asking the audience to just play along with the premise. I'm all for suspension of disbelief in favor of a thrilling, intriguing, or, finally, entertaining ride. Yet Looper's constant dismissal of the most interesting aspects of its premise means that it may be good, but it will fall far short of greatness.

Grade: B-
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