Saturday, September 29, 2012

Looper Is The Terminator Without The Cheese & Robots, For Fans Of The Terminator!

The Good: Plot, Characters, Special effects, A few moments of performance
The Bad: Use of voiceovers/Much of the acting
The Basics: Looper is solidly one of the best films of the year, by virtue of being smart, well-conceived science fiction!

Say what you will about the classics of science fiction, but there are many that do not hold up nearly so well over the years. I know I took a lot of flack when I reviewed The Terminator (here!) because I find it to be exceptionally dated. The Terminator had some decent themes and interesting characters, but it also had pretty hammy acting and some objectively lame catchphrases. Now, however, writer and director Rian Johnson has a cure for that. That cure is Looper.

Looper is a small, bold, science fiction film that is largely a conceptual rewrite of The Terminator with a surprising amount of X-Men III: The Last Stand (reviewed here!) thrown in. Returning Bruce Willis to a role much like his one in Twelve Monkeys (reviewed here!), Looper effectively creates a compelling reality of its own, even if its scope is one mob and a future the viewer never truly sees.

In Kansas in 2044, Joe is a Looper, an assassin whose only targets are individuals sent back from the future a part of the mob’s machinations. It seems thirty years from then, time travel will be a reality, but it will be illegal and because people have tracking devices in them, it will be exceptionally hard to make hits. So, the mob sent back Abe and Abe has a network of Loopers who stand at specified places in the middle of nowhere waiting for a specific time when a person will pop into existence from the future and they blow them away with their blunderbuss and dispose of those bodies from the future.

Joe is very good at what he does and he ruthlessly kills for the mob by day and by night, he goes and gets high on a drug that he drops into his eyes. But the mob of the future appears to have been abruptly taken over and Loopers find themselves killing their future selves (“closing the loop”) and their contracts ending as a result. After Joe’s friend Seth inadvertently lets his older self go, Joe sees very vividly what happens to Loopers who fail to close the loop and end their contracts.

When Joe encounters his future self, Old Joe gets the drop on him and urges him to run. Joe, however, is actually eager to stay in good standing with the mob and he begins a pursuit of his older self. After a discussion at their favorite diner, Joe learns that his older self is motivated by events thirty years in the future. His elder self is on a mission to kill the Rainmaker and thus save the life of the woman he loves.

Looper is pleasantly smart. The film addresses the paradoxes of temporal mechanics and it is very sensible for that. The older version of Joe describes how memory works, as he is able to recall events in current time as his memories, moments after they happen. Similarly, Joe is able to send a “note” to himself by carving it into his flesh and the Older Joe suddenly finds scars on his body. Looper treats time for variable it is; in order to have a time loop like the one that Joe experiences, he must go through the timeline once in order to be sent back. That means, the first time through the timeline, Joe actually kills his future self as he is supposed to. The montage that illustrates that is very clear and reasonable.

As well, the mission is a compelling and personal one. Joe sets out to stop his older self from killing Sid, a child that is one of the candidates the older Joe believes will grow up to be the Rainmaker. The older version of Joe is a sympathetic character because in his future, his wife is the one who cleaned him up and his love for her is real and vibrant. Looper plays off the classic and universal themes of love and death and it does that exceptionally well.

Moreover, almost all of the pieces are sensibly put in play very early on. The older version of Joe makes reference to what little is known about the Rainmaker, so viewers watch Sid and his mother, Sara, for clues to see if he might actually have a similar backstory. Furthermore, the “universe” of Looper establishes supplemental characters like Sara, Kid Blue, and Jesse (a hired gun) who are every bit as vicious as Joe is, making for interesting allies and adversaries. Looper also has a distinctive vernacular (“letting your loop run,” etc.) that makes it feel fresh and different.

Like Dark City (reviewed here!), Looper has compellingly quiet moments. Instead of constant gun battles and chases, Looper features characters like Abe and the older version of Joe simply talking to one another, usually Joe. And it works and manages to be entertaining.

The acting in Looper is fine, though no one gives really extraordinary performances. Bruce Willis does seem to be channeling Cole from Twelve Monkeys and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s big acting twist in the film seems to be taking on a squint much like Bruce Willis’s. In fact, as the film went on, it became clear that Willis was miscast. (I never thought I would ever argue for work for him, but . . .) As Looper goes on, it becomes clear that the ideal actor to play Old Joe would have actually been Gerard Butler, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt spends much of the film looking, acting, and even sounding like Butler. Emily Blunt shows up late in Looper and while her role is important, it does not give her much to do with it.

Jeff Daniels steals his scenes as Abe, just as Garret Dillahunt steals his as Jesse. The only real noticeably bad performance comes from Noah Segan, who plays Kid Blue with an annoyingly inconsistent limp.

Ultimately, Looper is an engaging puzzle film; the pieces are put into play and almost all of them are utilized in ways that make sense or are compelling, even a few that seem like gratuitous throwaways early on lend the film some surprising scenes later. Looper is, as the hype insinuated it could be, an instant science fiction classic.

For other films featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, please check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight Rises
G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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