Review: Looper


At one point in the Rian Johnson film Looper, Bruce Willis, sitting at a diner with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, tells him that he could go into great detail about time travel, including making a diagram with drinking straws, but he should just accept it instead. This is Johnson’s way of instructing the audience, for Willis’ character is Gordon-Levitt’s character 30 years later. I’ll leave it to Stephen Hawking to decide whether it is remotely possible for a person to meet their younger selves. Instead, we would do well to heed Willis/Johnson’s advice, for Looper is a smart, above-average thriller.

Set in Kansas in 2044, we are told from the beginning by Gordon-Levitt that time travel does not exist yet, at least not in 2044. It will be discovered in 2074, and immediately outlawed, so organized crime will operate it. They find an easy way to dispose of unwanted people. Instead of cement shoes, they zap their intended victims back to the past where they are murdered and incinerated by “loopers,” Gordon-Levitt being one. Lately, though, there’s been an interesting development in the looper game. The loopers themselves are sent back in time, to be killed by their younger selves. This is called “closing the loop.” They get a big payday, knowing they only have 30 years to live.

We see what happens when one looper (Paul Dano) can not bring himself to kill his older self–it’s not pleasant. Gordon-Levitt finds himself in the same situation, when Willis shows up and disarms his younger self. Of course, he can’t kill Gordon-Levitt, because he would vanish, and since Willis has now altered his past he starts to form new memories.

The film then shifts to something similar to the Terminator films. Willis is after the person responsible for all of this, the “Rainmaker.” He only knows the birth date and place of the child, which means he is one of three little boys. Gordon-Levitt ends up finding one of them, on a farm run by Emily Blunt. Johnson has created an interesting plot dilemma–we are rooting for Willis, but we also don’t want to see Blunt’s son killed. The way Johnson writes himself out of the trap is well done.

Looper is well-paced, shot, and acted. It’s a bit disconcerting to see Gordon-Levitt’s face altered so he looks more like Willis; his vaguely Asian appearance is gone, substituted with Willis’ hard eyes. At least they tried–most movies where two actors play versions of the same character they don’t bother.

Of course, as with any time travel movie, questions abound and we can’t help but try to reconcile the paradox. Jeff Daniels plays the leader of the loopers–he has been sent back into the past on a “one-way ticket,” so apparently once you go back in the past there is no way to go back to the present. Also, if you are the younger person and want to send a message to your older self, carving letters in your arm is a nifty if painful way to do it.

Looper is not a great film, but as action-adventures go, it’s well constructed and always engaging, and it also has a heart.

My grade for Looper: B.


About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

3 responses »

  1. Thought this was pretty excellent. It’s quite clever in the way that it pits two iterations of the same person against each other, while being able to give each of them credible motivations for what they’re doing. It’s an interesting dramatization of the idea that we can be completely different people at different times of our lives.

    I also liked the ambiguous nature of the Rainmaker. All we really know about him is that he’s very bad for the loopers in the future. But of course the loopers are murderous criminals, so their point of view might just be a little skewed. There’s a lot of talk about the path that Cid might end up on, but it’s not hard to imagine that he might turn out to be relatively benevolent while still being a “holy terror” to the organized crime world.

  2. Saw ‘Looper’ the other night and while it was an impressive film in a lot of ways, I felt slightly disappointed (probably because of the almost universal positive reviews I read about it beforehand).

    It is very clever in how it utilises time travel, well directed and edited and confident enough in it’s plot not to over-explain things to the audience. And the ending is well done.

    But there were things that bugged me about it. At a specific level, it was how Bruce Willis’ character is some unstoppable killing machine who can take on a gang of dozens by himself even though he hasn’t been a gangster/criminal for 10 years or so! That was a similar problem I had with ‘A History Of Violence’ as I recall.

    On a broader level, for all its cleverness, a lot of the time this is a rather standard action film (albeit a slick one) with lots of fights and gunplay that doesn’t feel organic but only so the required characters progress in the plot.

    Overall, my rating of this would be similar to ‘Edge Of Tomorrow’ (also starring Emily Blunt!) – very clever and slick and generally had a good time watching it, but not something I really enjoy in hindsight and particularly want to watch again.

    Rating: C+

  3. You’re being overly generous to the mess that is Looper. And A History of Violence completely jettisoned the core thread of the graphic novel (completely changing the ending) and therefore you’re being overly generous to it, too.

    Edge of Tomorrow was so much better than Looper. So much more fun and exciting and interesting. Looper was bad.

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