Looper threw me for a loop; there’s no other way to say it
‘Looper’ starts off as a slick sci-fi shoot-em-up. Don’t let your guard down, though, because you’ll get more than you bargained for in the second half.
I was psyched to see Looper, the new time travel film starring Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and a version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt that’s supposed to look like Bruce Willis. Yes, it’s sci-fi, which is not my genre of choice, but it seemed like accessible sci-fi; basically an action movie with some other-worldly elements thrown in. The year is 2044. As Joe (Gordon-Levitt) explains, time travel hasn’t been invented yet — but it will be thirty years from now. Like many things that are awesome, it’s highly illegal, though, so it’s only used by the top-tier criminal organizations. Joe works as a Looper, and his job in 2044 is to wait in a Kansas field and shoot people that the crime family wants to be rid of. He then disposes of the future body in the past, thus creating the perfect crime.
For Joe, the problem arises when a new boss, called “The Rainmaker,” comes onto the scene in the future and decides to “close the Loops,” meaning he sends the future version of the Loopers back for their younger versions to kill. Once this is done, the Loopers receive a large payoff and embark on the last thirty years of their lives. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Unfortunately, sometimes the future Loopers make themselves known to their younger versions, creating a situation in which they are both existing in the same time. This is what happens with Joe, as Old Joe (Willis) comes back to desperately try to change the future.
Looper starts out as a fast, fun, bloody sci-fi action movie. For the first hour or so, I was completely on board. Hell, the first twenty minutes was made entertaining enough just by trying to guess how many seasons of Moonlighting Gordon-Levitt watched in order to nail Willis’s facial expressions. After you get used to that and his prosthetic Bruce Willis nose, it’s easy to settle into a film that features action and comedy in almost equal measures, with just the smallest dash of sci-fi thrown in.
In fact, time travel is really just a MacGuffin in this film. One of the best scenes takes place between Joe and Old Joe, in which Joe is naturally trying to ask his older self about how time travel works. Old Joe blows him off saying that it doesn’t matter, and if they started to delve into it, they’d be there all day making diagrams with straws. Willis may as well be talking to the audience there, because the message is clear: time travel is merely a plot device, so don’t think about it too much, nerds.
It is this dismissal that may turn some hardcore sci-fi fans off, but speaking as someone who generally glazes over when a TV show or film delves too deeply into explaining the more fantastical aspects of the plot (I’m looking at you, JJ Abrams), I appreciated it. The idea of present actions having future consequences still plays a major role in Looper, but the focus is on the action, not the scientific implications.
Then, halfway through, Looper becomes a lot less fun.
Let me preface this by saying my reaction to the second half of Looper isn’t necessarily indicitive of the reaction the majority of people will have. Looper made me cry. It probably will not make you cry. You will probably continue to enjoy it. I don’t want to get too spoilery here, but part of Old Joe’s quest involves children — and he’s not starting a softball team. There’s one scene in particular, in which I legitimately turned to my boyfriend, made this face:
And said, “Wait. They are not even … right?” He just sadly nodded at me. I then spent the rest of the film in full-on Tracy Morgan mode:
Yes, the fact that I’m a mother to a little boy who’s turning four on Saturday definitely affects my judgment of the second half of this film. However, I can also look beyond my own personal reaction and make (mostly) objective observations about the turn Looper takes.
There is a message about parental love in this film that is beautiful. Emily Blunt is fantastic as Sara, an emotionally-damaged mother trying to make a good life for her young son Cid (played by a scene-stealing Pierce Gagnon). The scenes between Joe, Sara and Cid are the ones that provide the real heart in the film and make the ending both moving and incredibly powerful.
With that said, the tone of the second half of the film completely changes from the first. While this in and of itself wouldn’t be a bad thing (after all, who doesn’t love a film that completely changes its audience’s expectations?), the problem arises when, instead of a clear directional shift, the film’s waters just become muddied.
Instead of taking a fun action movie and making it dark and disturbing, Looper instead tries to be a fun action movie with a smattering of absolutely horrifying scenes mixed in. A scene that made me cry, for instance, was followed by one of Bruce Willis doing his best John McClane in a scene that had people in my packed theater cheering.
Rian Johnson is an amazingly talented writer/director, and is responsible for making audiences believe that Gordon-Levitt could be more than a sitcom star. Like Brick before it, Looper is innovative and exciting. However, the directional shift went just a little bit too far and severely impacted my enjoyment of the film. Watching the second half of Looper jump back and forth from light to dark made it seem as though Johnson approached it from a clinical angle, with all violence being created equal. While this could have been a statement in itself, it felt more like indifference.
Johnson asks some big philisophical questions in Looper and gives tough answers. Unfortunately, the ham-handedness with which some of the issues are handled do the film a disservice. Looper is still absolutely worth seeing and full of fantastic performances, but just make sure you brace yourself for the second half.