Welcome to our first reader contributed review. Corey has been excited about Looper ever since I've seen him talking online about it. He has shown great enthusiasm for the upcoming film and so Joseph asked him if he would be interested in contributing a review. He said he would love to.
Corey was a big fan of Movieology, from which MovieByte has spun off, and has been very supportive of MovieByte from the get-go. Corey loves books, movies, music, theology, science fiction and more. Exploring the endless possibilities of the English language is one of his favorite pastimes as an aspiring writer. He's the type of guy who will sit down and read a grammar book from cover to cover (yes, this might just be a little crazy), and enjoy every minute of it. He blogs regularly at www.inkslingerblog.wordpress.com.
“I can see you’re not joking when you say you’re gonna kill this guy.”
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a time travel yarn that was actually worth its salt. With Looper, we finally get one… and it’s not just good, it’s fantastic!
In the year 2042, time travel hasn’t yet been invented… but in 2072, it has. It’s also been outlawed. It’s so illegal, in fact, that only the mob uses it. When they want to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where he’s promptly offed by a “looper” with a blunderbuss. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such looper — and he loves what he does for a living.
For Joe and the other hired guns, life is one continuous cycle of partying, drugs, sex, and of course, hits for the mob. All that begins to change when the loopers realize that their victims are *cough* themselves… thirty years in the future. This is called “closing the loop,” and it’s happened before, but never as frequently. Word gets around about a powerful figure in the future called “The Rainmaker” — and he’s closing all the loops. Fast.
But things get really crazy when Joe encounters his own loop (Bruce Willis). Who attacks him. And then gets away. Not good. In this world, if you let your loop run, you’re as good as dead. The mob doesn’t take kindly to screw-ups.
Director Rian Johnson made his debut with 2007’s Brick, a fast-talking neo-noir thriller set in a California suburb. Rough around the edges though it may have been, it clearly indicated Johnson’s talent for smart, character-driven storytelling. In 2008, he wrote and directed The Brothers Bloom, a caper comedy with style and wit to spare. His third film, Looper, hit theaters last Friday. I thought it was amazing. And judging from the rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, I’m not the only one.
Take a brief survey of sci-fi cinema and you’re bound to see a problem: many films (Source Code, for instance, or Surrogates) start out with a fantastic premise, only to fall apart through shoddy or vacuous execution. Looper is different. It is that beautiful rarity — a stylish yet substantial mind-bender that accomplishes everything it set out to do, and then some.
Johnson’s skill in handling the concept of time travel is flat-out incredible. It’s complex, to be sure, but never unintelligible, and thoughtful viewers will find that each puzzle piece has a place. So if you’re looking for a mindless popcorn flick, this isn’t it — Johnson expects his audience to engage. I, for one, had a blast. It’s heartening to encounter a film that doesn’t treat the viewer like a complete moron.
Furthermore, the narrative functions with remarkable internal consistency — the kind of consistency I haven’t seen in a sci-fi film since Christopher Nolan’s Inception. I can only imagine how much time and effort Johnson spent on the film’s carefully constructed world, but I can say it paid off. Looper runs as smoothly as clockwork.
Style and Substance
The cast could not have been better — and I’m referring specifically to the two leads. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also collaborated with Johnson on Brick and The Brothers Bloom) delivers what is, in my opinion, his finest performance to date; which is saying something, if you think about it. He and Bruce Willis may bear little resemblance to one another on the surface, but it’s amazing what wonders can be wrought with a judicious application of good old fashioned make-up.
Willis is superb, as always. His role here is much more restrained than you might expect, but he still has time for a wise-crack or two, and many of the script’s sharpest lines are reserved for him. Watching the interaction between his character and Gordon-Levitt’s — two people who are essentially the same person — is sobering, tense, and humorous all at once. You’ll find yourself grinning even as you grip your chair a little tighter.
The highest praise, however, must go to Rian Johnson, a director who does what he does with confidence, style, and marvelous attention to detail. Looper had a considerably larger budget than his previous two films, and it would’ve been tempting to go the route of Transformers and let the eye-candy take over. But Johnson does nothing of the sort. He keeps his head, and gives us something really worth watching. When the eye candy does show up, it’s impressive. But look beneath the guns and gadgets and you’ll see something even better: a thinking brain and a beating heart.
Looper also wrestles with a number of weighty themes – themes of love and hate, grace and retribution, violence and sacrifice. It explores the dark depths of human nature and asks us to consider: are people born evil or raised that way? Are the choices we make in adulthood the result of our upbringing or simply because of who we are? Alissa Wilkinson of Christianity Today says it well: “This question is a difficult one for Christians to grapple with, given that our theological framework both reminds us that we are fallen, and gives us hope of redemption, of God’s grace enabling us to make decisions that can alter our future - and the future of those we love — for the better. And yet: man is born with darkness in his heart. Where is the line between nature and nurture? The film doesn’t try to answer the question, but it at least leaves us wondering: how do the choices we make today affect our futures? What kind of a person am I becoming, every time I make a decision?”
Artistically and thematically, Looper impressed me again and again. My disappointment, therefore, has more to do with certain aspects of the R-rating than anything else. Looper is a very violent film and the language is far from tame. I can understand the inclusion of the elements, considering the gritty subject matter; what I cannot understand (nor appreciate) is the inclusion of nudity. It’s restricted to a single scene early on in the film, and it’s relatively brief - but it’s also completely pointless. Scrapping it altogether wouldn’t have detracted from the story in any way. It’s existence is the one aspect of Johnson’s film which I can’t account for. Considering that, I’d almost recommend you skip seeing Looper is theaters and wait to watch it at home, where you can keep the remote within easy reach.
A Sci-Fi Film for the Ages
Despite this shortcoming, Looper is still a highly-commendable piece of cinema. Anybody who loves science fiction (and most specifically, the concept of time travel) should consider this film a must-see. It may be a bit early to call it a classic… but if it isn’t yet, I’m certain it will be.
Looper is rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content. The violence is never gratuitous, but it is harsh and bloody (and some of it involves children) – there are shootings, fistfights, and one character graphically explodes in mid-air. Unmarried characters sleep together (off-screen). There’s drinking and partying in a club, with scantily clad dancers shown briefly in the background. As mentioned above, one early scene contains nudity. Language appears throughout, including a number of F-words.