Looper – A Review

Time travel isn’t my thing; whenever a movie or TV show starts dabbling in time travel, I know I am in trouble. I am just too easily confused by it. This wasn’t always the case. I could follow time travel when it was the straight forward Back to the Future variety. It wasn’t all that complicated and it wasn’t all that fancy. But that concept of time travel seems quaint by today’s standards. Most of the time travel scenarios that I’ve run into over the last ten years are far more complex and sophisticated. And every TV show and movie has different rules that apply to their version of time travel. I try to keep everything straight, figure out the paradoxes and worry about the “butterfly effect.” My head starts to hurt.

I was somewhat surprised, therefore, that I enjoyed the movie Looper, whose primary plot is time travel, as much as I did. Better yet, I think I actually understood everything that happened. This is somewhat of a triumph.

I have been excited for Looper ever since I first heard about it. This was less because of the plot, but because of who was attached to the film. I really enjoy Joseph Gordon-Levitt; though I didn’t watch his early work on 3rd Rock from the Sun, I have come to appreciate him in his more adult roles. He has quietly become a solid and smart actor who tends to pick some interesting roles (I’m giving him a pass on Premium Rush and hoping that was a studio obligation). He tends to make some cool choices in whatever role he is in and even if I don’t necessarily enjoy the movie that he is in, I almost always enjoy what he’s doing in it. He completely charmed me in (500) Days of Summer; in fact, I liked him so much that I was able to overcome my general distaste for his co-star (the Siri loving, adorkable , infantile Zooey Deschanel) to not only enjoy the movie, but buy it on Blu-ray. That, my friends, is charisma.

Gordon-Levitt is teamed in Looper with Bruce Willis, who is someone that I also enjoy tremendously and who I may or may not have a little bit of a crush on (spoiler: I do). While Willis made his bones as an action hero, I don’t think he gets enough credit for some of his other roles. He certainly knows his way around being a tough guy with a machine gun (and thank God for that), but he is also capable of smaller and more reserved performances. He was very good, for instance, in his supporting role in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom earlier this year. I enjoy that he will take small and sometimes quirky roles in films; he is just as comfortable being a supporting player as the main focus. He also has a general likability; I haven’t come across too many people that will say “I just don’t like Bruce Willis.” In my mind, he just oozes cool and awesomeness.

So putting Willis and Gordon-Levitt together in a movie is an excellent way to get me excited. Add the threat of violence and some action and you basically have a blueprint for “a movie that Heather wants to see.”

The basic premise for Looper is fairly straightforward. In the future, time travel is illegal and is only used by crime syndicates. When they want someone to be “taken care of,” they send the person back in time where a special assassination (a Looper) is waiting and will kill them instantly. Levitt plays such an assassin (Joe) and enjoys the perks that go along with it; in a world where most of the civilization is living in poverty, he has the money to drive a fancy car, dress well and to be a recreational drug user. Everything changes the day that Joe realizes that the target that has been sent back for him to kill is his future self (Willis).

What speaks well of Looper is how much I enjoyed it, given that it wasn’t exactly the movie that I thought I was getting. From the commercials and trailers, I had expected Looper to be heavy on the action and the shoot-em-up antics that one tends to associate with Willis. So it came as somewhat of a surprise that Looper was relatively light on the action and was much more reliant on drama and science fiction for its story telling. However, while Looper was a little slower than I thought it would be, it was also extremely entertaining.

The performances by Gordon-Levitt and Willis were strong, as expected. While I had never thought of the two actors looking particularly similar, I was totally convinced that they were playing older and younger versions of the same person. I give credit for that to Gordon-Levitt, who I think took pains to pick up some of the mannerisms of Willis; I noticed that his speaking style was altered to be more reminiscent of Willis. It was subtle – Gordon-Levitt wasn’t doing an impersonation – but whatever adjustments he made were effective.  Emily Blunt was also very good; in fact she blended so well into her role that I didn’t even realize it was her. Normally when I see her on screen, I am secretly thinking “Hey – there’s Mrs. John Krasinski. That lucky duck.” That didn’t happen during Looper. Jeff Daniels is also solid as crime boss Abe; it’s a very different role than Will McAvoy on The Newsroom. The work of young Pierce Gagnon as Cid should be singled out; he really stole every scene that he was in. For a little guy, he had excellent timing and delivery. This appears to be only his fourth acting credit and I hope to see more of him in the future. He had such a sweet face; I just wanted to smush his cheeks.

What I particularly liked about Looper, beyond the actors, was that it was unpredictable. I was never sure what exactly would happen next or where the story would ultimate end up. Even when information was raised that I knew would be significant at some point (in the words of Wayne’s World “that seemed like extraneous information at the time.”), I wasn’t sure how exactly it would be used or what the payoff would be.  And though it moved a little more slowly than I predicted, I was never bored. I was always interested how the plot would unfold. Since the violence was used sparingly, it held a lot more power when it was used. It isn’t particularly graphic, but there is at least one fairly brutal scene.

Looper is a thoughtful movie and you will probably huddle with your companions afterward to hash out what it all meant and to discuss theories and clarify plot points. We certainly did. It’s also a movie that you may like the more you think about and process; I liked it a lot right out of the gate, but some of my friends said today that they enjoyed it more after continued deliberation. When the movie ends, you will discover that it probably wasn’t about what you thought it was about going in. But if you have an open mind and just go where the story takes you, I don’t think you will be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • It’s been a while, but the folks with the baby resurfaced at this screening. This was the same little one that I’ve seen at other screenings, as I’ve started paying attention to the selfish adults that accompany the baby. It’s not just mom and dad, but also at least one grandparent that is along for the ride. He/she was not a fan of Looper and fussed quite a bit throughout the movie. Apparently the adult family members were fans of Looper because they didn’t want to leave the theater even when the kid started crying. It was very distracting and disrespectful to everyone else in the theater. I really wanted to stand up and yell “Take the damn baby out” but I figured I’d get thrown out. I’m not anti-baby, but this is getting ridiculous. Hire a *#&@^#@ babysitter.
  • It’s hilarious the snippets of conversations that you overhear waiting for the screening to start. My personal favorite: “I have new found respect for Adam Sandler.” I have absolutely no idea in what context that would even be a valid statement.
  • Looper isn’t completely serious – there are some definitely funny moments. I’d sign up for a buddy cop comedy starring Willis and Gordon-Levitt.
  • A fun moment for me – during the trailer for the new 007 movie, one of my friends leaned over to say something to me and then stopped. The reason – she was about to share information about the movie that she had read on my blog. I’m officially the media!

I really enjoyed Looper and would definitely recommend checking it out. Everyone in our group enjoyed it and while it wasn’t the film I was necessary expecting, it was in a lot of ways a lot better. Looper has more substance over flash and is one of the better films that I have seen in a while. Critics agree with me – it’s currently hovering around 92% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. It is a good melding of a popcorn movie with an indie sensibility.

Looper opens nationwide today.