Review: Looper (2012)



Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson
118 min.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Summer Qing
MPAA Rating
Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content

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Have you ever found yourself picking at a loose thread in a favorite sweater or blanket only to find that the more you pulled at it, the farther it unravels, eventually destroying the object you so long enjoyed? Looper is the kind of movie that looks spectacular fully constructed, but has a number of stray threads that risk unraveling the whole picture.

The concept of time travel has been around for a long time and in movies, it’s formed the backbones of many films, some great and some not. Looper uses the concept of time travel to tell an involving story that falls prey to the many paradoxes inherent in the science fiction sub-genre.

In the future, time travel is illegal and is used exclusively by organized crime syndicates. Because tracking bodies is so easily accomplished, crime bosses need a way to kill their enemies without being uncovered. They send their victims back in time where an assassin known as a Looper, does the deed and dumps the body so that it will never be found. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper addicted to a drug delivered via eyedrops. He’s saving much of what he earns as a Looper so that one day he can retire to France. When his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back to be killed, his momentary hesitation permits him to escape. The film follows younger Joe as he tries to stop Old Joe from using his knowledge of the future to destroy his only shot at happiness.

Discussing anything more will reveal some element of the plot that is crucial to one’s enjoyment of it and picking the parts that won’t is a challenge.

Gordon-Levitt has had a productive relationship with Looper writer-director Rian Johnson. In Johnson’s debut film Brick, Gordon-Levitt earned some of his highest praise to date. It was also one of the films that helped establish him as one of the key young actors of this generation. In Looper, Gordon-Levitt does more than imitate Willis. Willis’ character has only the character development Gordon-Levitt gives him. While his task is to look and sound a lot like Willis, it’s an intriguing feat that has Gordon-Levitt defining Willis’ performance. It’s a unique symbiotic relationship that makes a film like Face/Off looked forced.

Finally finding a science fiction film worthy of her talents, Emily Blunt inhabits a young mother whose abandonment of her young son (Pierce Gagnon) has caused her no end of grief. As she sets herself down to protect him even against the sudden appearance of Young Joe, we never question her role as a mother. As she navigates the mirky waters of trust with Young Joe, we find a woman burdened by demons even she doesn’t understand. As her son Cid, Gagnon delivers his line with style and precision, but his young age makes it seem too unrealistic to fit within a film that seems rooted in credible settings and personalities. Perhaps he is a natural evolution of young children who have already been showing greater signs of maturity in the 21st Century, but it’s a bit disconcerting from beginning to end. Gagnon does convey some sense of vulnerability beneath his facade of bravery.

Johnson’s film is heavily fueled by symbolism. From the hydrogen fuel filtration system featured on all of the older cars and trucks in the film to the simple act of killing a victim, getting paid and circling back oneself to do it all again. Everything repeats, we get ourselves in ruts and we find difficulty escaping them. Drug abuse is cyclical. Violence is cyclical. Life and death are cyclical. Looper is a film about breaking the chain of cause and effect, finding a way out of the loop and thereby finding happiness in one’s freedom.

(Note: While this next paragraph doesn’t explicitly reveal spoilers from the film, a smart reader can infer the events that lead to this summation, which could end up ruining enjoyment of the film and one of its major plot revelations. As such, it is highly encouraged that readers not wanting to have the film spoiled skip this paragraph in its entirety) The loose thread of Looper is one that is frequently associated with science fiction films that build themselves on the idea of time travel, a concept which has allowed for some of the most inventive and frequently frustrating concepts seen in the genre. Theories of time travel posit that any change to the past will irrevocably change the future. It’s why early in the film someone wonders why they don’t just kill the loopers so they can’t wreack havoc when sent back to the past only to be lectured on the dangerous impact such an action could incur. Everything the dead person did could be unwound and erased from time. The film tries very hard to avoid a sense of impropriety when using this concept and it’s to this idea that one of the nagging threads that can unravel the film is attached.

Looper is a well made film. It’s visually stimulating, methodical and exciting. Fans of the science fiction genre will undoubtedly find something in the film to enjoy and its future cult status may be set in stone. However, as beautiful as this finished tapestry is, there is a large, loose thread that, if it’s picked at will eventually unravel everything in the film that works. A paradox is a dangerous thing and anyone who is especially sensitive to them may have difficulty leaving the rogue thread alone. Were the film not so well constructed, it would be very easy to pull that impertinent fiber and rip the entire tapestry apart. Thankfully, the film is an excellent work of craftsmanship, which makes ripping it apart almost unsatisfying.
Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Original Score, Editing, Makeup, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects
Unlikelies: Picture, Original Screenplay
Review Written
September 30, 2012


Add a Comment
  1. In one scene “Bruce” escapes , then in a subsequent scene is killed so that the youg version can live thirty years and become “Bruce”. Is it my simple mind or is this a unexplainable plot error as only one or the other could happen not both? Any help understanding this will be appreciated! BWB

    1. The film doesn’t seem to care as much about logical conundrums as it does making a fascinating story. While I respect that to an extent, it’s frustrating. I’m not a fan of time travel movies or programs because of the inherent problems with logic that people conveniently forget in an effort to sell a good story. Few programs have done it well: namely the “Trials and Tribble-ations” of Deep Space Nine and the film First Contact. These I hold up as proof that it can be done well and logically without destroying history and nullifying everything they initially set up by making it impossible.

    2. In chronological order he 1) kills bruce (his older self), then goes on to live 30 years. After these 30 years he gets looped back, but because he knows what is about to happen he can alter his past (by going into the machine untied & unblindfolded), 2) making lewitz hesitate for just a moment allowing him to escape death.

      In the movie they just switch 1) and 2) around to try to confuse us ;).

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