Reviewed by Galen Strickland
While I generally try to avoid profanity in my reviews, I just can't help it this time. Pardonnez mon franšais, but the best way I can think to describe Looper is that it is a giant mind-fuck of a movie. Any time travel tale worth the telling should be a bit confusing of course, but in this case it isn't just a bit, it's brain-fryingly convoluted. I lost count of how many paradoxes were created, or not created as the case may be. The standard query has been, what if you go back in time and kill your grandfather, will you still exist? What if you kill your self? Yes, I meant that to be two words.
How do I tell you about the movie without spoiling it? I really don't think that's possible, but I'll try. The short version would be: Looper is a movie about time travel. It's confusing. It's good. Go see it. I know that's not enough for most people, so what else can I say? How about if I tell you I like convoluted, intelligent science fiction, but Looper nearly lost me on several occasions? Would that scare you away from seeing it? I hope not, but maybe it should if you are like the mindless masses who want their action but don't want to think about it while it's happening, or even afterwards. If that's the case then wait for Skyfall or Taken 2. Looper demands that you pay attention, and even that might not be enough, because I suspect writer/director Johnson intended it to be as confusing as possible.
It doesn't really start out that way, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt providing adequate information in a noir-like narration. There was a point early on that I was disappointed in the voice-overs, for much the same reason I didn't care for them in the theatrical release of Blade Runner. In most cases I think the action and dialogue should be sufficient, but then again, Looper might have needed even more narration than it has. At least we know right off what the premise is. Levitt plays Joe, a Looper, a hit man in 2044. He doesn't have to track his prey, they come to him. You see, time travel hasn't been invented yet in Joe's time, but it will be in the future, but then made illegal. Just as if guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns, so it goes with time travel technology. The gangsters from thirty years in the future use it to send people back for elimination. Joe is paid in silver bars sent back with the victim, which he trades in to his boss for cash money. I can't really talk about several of the confusing parts, not only to avoid spoiling the story, but also because I'm not sure of what actually happened myself. One of them might have been an editing error, but that seems unlikely. Some theories suggest that for every action and decision we make, an alternate future is created for each unique possibility. Maybe in this case two different possibilites happen at the same time, and we see the results of both. But which is real? Both or neither? Are some of the things we see only in Joe's mind as he speculates about time travel paradoxes?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? What if you kill the chicken before it can lay the egg, or smash the egg before it can hatch? What if you killed God before either were created? Neither of those questions is any more confusing than what happens in Looper. On top of that, Johnson throws in a side story that took me completely by surprise, it was almost like another movie was trying to compete with the major theme of this one. I know that sounds like a negative, but I don't mean it to be. This side story is just one way in which the film subverts your expectations. Johnson has managed to make an intelligent SF film that is as much about character as it is the gimmick. Even though several of the characters are less than moral, almost all of them do things you don't expect, or at least in a way you don't expect. There were a few times I anticipated a certain outcome from an event, but was wrong every time. Well, all but one that is. Another way the film subverts expectations is a transference of sympathy from one character to another. At times we are rooting for Joe, at other times it's Old Joe (Bruce Willis), sent back in time for execution (to close his loop). Then it switches to Sara (Emily Blunt) and later to her son Cid. There was a brief time when it was Suzie (Piper Perabo), and oddly enough, even a low-level hood like Kid Blue (Noah Segan).
Other than the confusion, I only have one complaint. Too many of the scenes were at night or in dark rooms and were very grainy and murky. That does lend to the noirish feel to the film, but another cinematographer might have been able to light those scenes better without it being distracting or unrealistic. No complaints at all about the acting, and I need to highlight a remarkable performance by the youngest member of the cast, Pierce Gagnon. He plays the son of Emily Blunt's character, and he is the focus of that off-the-wall side story mentioned above. If time travel stories appeal to you, if complicated plots appeal to you, if you've ever wondered what your future self could tell you about your life or if you've ever felt the need to revisit yourself in the past, then Looper might be the movie for you. If you end up as confused as me, just go see it again. Or five more times, whatever it takes. Just stay in the loop and it might make sense eventually.
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