The opening shot of Rian Johnson’s (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) new film Looper perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film: stylish, detailed, heady, and above all ruthless. That scene also made me wish I had gone into the movie blind, since it would have opened up a world of fascinating questions if the trailer had not ruined the premise. Don’t go to Looper this weekend expecting the average Sci-Fi movie based solely around a single concept or gimmick, because the film constantly keeps you guessing as Rian Johnson gleefully plays with the genre like a kid on Christmas. I have to come out and say that I have never been good at wrapping my mind around time travel, and I always find myself working out numerous technicalities as the movie is playing, thereby lessening the overall impact of the film. Luckily for me Rian Johnson is sympathetic to my disability and twice in the film has characters overtly claim that they could spend hours poring over spread sheets and diagrams, but who’s got time for that? These obvious winks at the audience are not to say that Looper half-asses its time-travel internal mechanics, but it just reminds people (like me) that you don’t need to understand everything immediately to enjoy the thrill ride. Looper is smart enough not to open the floodgates for logical inconsistencies which always distract from the action onscreen, giving the viewer the best of both worlds by not compromising the action for intelligence, or vise versa.
The film twists and folds in on itself so many times and with such elegance that I am hesitant to discuss the merits and failings of the plot, lest it detract from your experience. With films like Looper, critics should exercise restraint for the good of the film they’re endorsing, but a quick look at Rotten Tomatoes reveals quite the opposite. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sporting subtle facial prosthetics, showcases a more restrained and controlled acting style as he attempts to embody the innate confidence of a young Bruce Willis with surprisingly effective results. There is a pervading theme throughout Looper concerning the cycle of violence which mankind perpetuates, and this notion is easily paralleled with mankind’s new ability to time travel or loop, giving the narrative the boost it needs to surpass so many other entries in the same genre. Unfortunately the film in no way attempts to explain the political framework of 2044’s Kansas which has fallen into a dystopia of gangs, bloodshed, and a surprisingly absent police force, which perhaps could have given the aforementioned theme more weight by informing us how cultural violence dissolves societies, though I suppose this notion is presupposed considering out current state of global affairs. Without saying too much, there also seemed to be a fairly hefty discrepancy in Bruce Willis’s character (Older version) which could have been easily fixed with a short scene. (SPOILER ALERT! A scene depicting the sadistic and destructive nature of the Rain-man and how he had changed the world. From there the film could pose the question, “Would it have been right to kill Hitler as a child? We are told but never shown, and this does not give Bruce’s character enough motivation to kill kids, especially after the diner scene where we got the impression that older Bruce was the “good” Bruce. Basically, the rule is if you’re going to kill kids in your movie, you damn well better show the audience the motivation explicitly. Finally, was I the only one who got a The Omen vibe from the kid? Sort of a mutant antichrist? END SPOILERS!) Regardless, at least Rian Johnson knows how to write characters in shades of grey, and he does tie up any loose ends by the finale with a flourish. Plus there is a scene midway which takes place at a chain link fence which is brilliantly constructed since it takes you a few seconds to understand what’s happening, and by the time the realization hits you it hits the character as well…and you both realize it’s too late. So bloody good.
What finally makes Looper so surprisingly coherent and controlled is the same thing that allowed films about people performing espionage in dreams or Jews killing Hitler to work, they all had one person doing the writing and the directing. This allows for a singleness of vision which can only add to the intensity and dramatic force of the film, since each scene is first conceived both narratively and visually at the same time. Looper manages to grab that sense of innovation which is usually reserved for short films, and then holds that grasp for nearly 2 hours. Frequency is the only film that comes to mind that could be compared to Looper, but only in reference to the time travel mechanics, and only tentatively at best. This film makes and plays by its own rules, and never neglects the personal drama of its characters as it filters countless cinematic elements and genres (Sci-fi, Film Noir, Action, and just a hint of Romance) into something totally unique and fresh. (A-)