A Totally Biased Review: Looper

A superbly handled story that’s filled with very dislikable characters.

What an interesting movie.

Truly, it’s not very often I write a review and, in retrospect, find myself wondering why I liked something or why I didn’t like something, and being so unsure of both.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I did like this movie. Though, it’s not without its flaws, and it’s, perhaps, a little too smart for its own good.

Joe is a Looper. In the year 2044, time travel hasn’t been invented yet. But, 30 years into the future, it has been. It’s made illegal almost immediately, and only the most powerful criminal syndicates and organizations use it. Since it’s almost impossible to dispose of a body in the future, when the mob wants someone killed, they send them 30 years into the past, where a Looper is waiting for them to both kill them, and dispose of them, a body that, technically, shouldn’t even exist. These men are always strapped with silver bars, payment that keeps the Loopers working for the mob. However, when they begin their contracts, they also agree that, at some point, they have to “close” their own loop. This means the mob sends back the Looper’s future self, to be killed by their younger self. This earns them a gold bar payday and freedom from their brutal gig for the next 30 years, when they, inevitably, are sent back to 2044, to be killed. By themselves.

Confused? Then don’t bother with this movie.

Get all that? Then you’ve got a chance.

The movie has quite an interesting and promising premise, one that it almost fully delivers on, as two of the films greatest draws are both the time-travel, time-paradox laden plot, and the central character, or characters in this singularly bizarre instance, namely the prostetically-enhanced Joseph Gordon-Levitt, made to look unnervingly like co-star Bruce Willis. One of these two draws succeeds. The other, I found myself struggling with.

Joe is a Looper. Feeling the Déjà vu yet? You’ll get it a few times in the film. Joe’s life is going pretty well. He’s a successful hitman from the past for the mob of the future, enjoys the night life and is addicted to a type of eye-drops that are the narcotic of the future. He brutally kills anyone that appears in his designated “spot,” waiting at a designated time for them. The men appear, day after day, a white hood obscuring their face, bound in a brown leather jacket, their screaming abruptly cut short. Until, he realizes his loop is being closed, and his future self appears, un-hooded and unbound. Joe’s tenacity is unmatched, in both versions of himself. Old Joe escapes, leaving Young Joe to run and try not to get picked up by his former employers, particularly the bearded Abe, a mobster from the future. The implications of what would happen are left to a particularly horrific sequence where a fellow Looper failed to close his loop, and what the mob does to the captured, younger version to lure the old version back, is one of the most terrifying and gruesome sequences I can recount from recent memory. Why? Because you don’t see anything that actually happens. What’s left to the mind is always worse than what’s left to the eye.

I said before that one of the draws for the film works, and that one of them didn’t. The film’s setting is a resounding success, and the time-travel premise is brilliant, well-written, and interesting, offering a lot of diversity and opportunity to a plot that maintains its focus despite the many threads seeming to unravel all at once. What doesn’t work is Joe himself, and I can’t blame that on the remarkable prosthesis JGL wears the entire film, because, honestly, the dude looks just like Bruce Willis. In one particular scene, now popular from the trailers, with the two of them sitting looking at one another in a diner, shows off the artistry achieved with the make-up applied, as their profiles are spot-on. JGL also does a great job taking on some of Willis’ traits, even sounding like him and using his same sort of cadence when speaking. Truly, a remarkable performance. Speaking of speaking, the diner scene also holds some of the best dialogue in the film, where Old Joe and Joe both argue, trying to rationalize their respective actions.

It’s this moment where the film is either at its most brilliant or most lazy, as the film’s decision to not get bogged down by the trappings of its own time-traveling premise and manage to avoid being overly confusing due to time-paradoxes, is relegated to spoken dialogue. Old Joe comes out plainly and says, “I don’t want to talk about time travel shit,” giving the audience a reason for the film avoiding getting overly convoluted or overly confusing. Whether or not this was to keep the plot as clean and neat as possible, or to avoid having to further explain anything in the context of the film, I don’t know, but it does manage to work, as far as I’m concerned, and lends further strength to the films setting and sci-fi trappings, both of which are very good without becoming any sort of anchor or crutch. And as I said, the films writing is at its strongest here, as both men avoid musing on the philosophical implications of their predicament, instead exchanging verbal barbs and bullets, each working to outwit themselves. Confusing, right? It’s not as bad as you would think. Really. And although the films characters ignore the philosophical implications of their plight, we, thankfully do not have to, and if knowing someone turns into something terrible, is it worth killing them while they’re still innocent? Horrific musings, to be sure.

Joe, himself, as previously stated, is simply not as successful, largely in part to his character and the decisions he makes. Our emotions are somewhat toyed with, and just when we feel we have to start rooting for one or the other, they concede to such heinous actions that you find it almost impossible to empathize with them. Joe is not a likable person, on almost any level, and that other characters in the movie feel anything for them at all is, quite frankly, astonishing to me. Joe is a brutal, cold-blooded killer who betrays those close to him, kills without question, and works frantically to get back into the mob’s favor. Old Joe is a man who spent 30 years killing and working as a hired gun before becoming hell-bent on saving the future he built with his wife, and is ready to go to almost any lengths possible to save that future. So far, in fact, I found myself detesting him. And it takes a lot for me to dislike someone. I loved Moriarty. I simply hated Joe. And it hurts the film that you don’t feel as though you can earnestly cheer for either version of him.

It’s truly a testament to Bruce Willis’ ability as an actor to make you feel so strongly and sympathize with him so deeply before turning those emotions completely on their head and growing to hate him so severely, all the while, forcing you to acknowledge that on some level, what he’s fighting and killing for is justified, struggling just to save the woman he loves, the woman who cleaned up him and turned him completely around.  Joe is just as detestable, working diligently to anticipate his future self and kill him just to square himself with the mob, perfectly content to murder his future self in exchange for 30 more years of life. We wonder if the trade-off is really worth it.

As previously stated, the film is more a sci-fi thriller than just a sci-fi action movie, if for no other reason than the movie maintains a fairly tense atmosphere for a decent portion of the 2-hour running time. In either case, it’s still a sci-fi flick, and the visuals are very well-done across the board, with hardly anything being in the realm of cheesy or poorly done, from the towering, clustered skyscrapers of 2044, to the make-up work, to the telekinetic powers that are not regarded as amazing and superhuman, but considered a corny parlor-trick. It’s a fully realized, well-designed world that feels, despite its time-travel premise, realistic and grounded, and is populated with real characters. It’s these characters that steal the show, not some fleeting special effect.

A somewhat complicated plot is cleaned up nicely by a well-written, well-executed story.

It’s a very, very interesting movie. On the one hand, I found the premise very, very intriguing, and I felt the film handled it beautifully, perhaps better than any other time travel movie I’ve ever seen. By avoiding the tricky, plot-hole-ish traps that most of these sorts of films fall victim to, the movie transcends other time-travel sci-fi thrillers and sci-fi action films. However, the deplorable nature of its main characters also made it difficult to identify with them, and save for one moment of heroism, Joe is not someone I even remotely empathize with. It’s an interesting contradiction, and one that will make the movie very popular, I’m sure. However, I don’t feel everyone will enjoy the twisting, turning, paradox-filled, warped-time-mind-bending ideas that the time-travel aspect fits into the film, which is a real shame, because at its heart, this is a well-written, well-conceived film that takes its characters, and more importantly their actions, very seriously.

5 Responses to “A Totally Biased Review: Looper”
  1. callmemistress says:

    you think you’re sooooo smart

  2. Vivian Yattaw says:

    what did you say the movie was about again? I’ll need to watch this at home so I can rewind every five minutes just to follow it. Love JGL and Willis so don’t want to hate them because I love them and to hate them would be……hateful. Good review!

    • Justin Yattaw says:

      It’s relatively easy to follow, actually, but the whole premise is going to be a bit of a turn-off to a lot of people.

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