Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Looper (2012)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

*DISCLAIMER* I went into this movie knowing very little about it, and that was a great way to see it for the first time. If you don't want spoilers don't read any further, but know that this movie rules and you should see it.

Looper is set in a not-too-distant future where specialized assassins kill unarmed men sent to them by crime lords from a future 30 years forward, when time travel is invented (and immediately made illegal) but bodies are hard to dispose of. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such hitman (known as "loopers"), a drug-addicted jerk who believes he won't hesitate when the time comes to kill his future self, a part of his contract with the mob organization. Unfortunately when his future self (played by Bruce Willis) is zapped back to him, he escapes and starts hunting for the child who grows up to become an all-powerful kingpin who ruins everyone's lives. Now Young Joe is hunting Old Joe so he won't be fired, while Old Joe is killing people who may or may not grow up to do a thing, like the fucking Terminator. It all comes to a head on some broad's (Emily Blunt) farm, because there are still farms in the future.

Combining elements of action, sci-fi, fantasy, noir, thriller, romance, and existential crisis, Looper is a fascinating blend of genres and ideas. On paper it sounds convoluted, but for the most part all the parts come together in a way that makes sense. The tonal shifts and narrative twists are well-placed and the characters develop along an interesting course, and generally all the time travel stuff is treated intelligently. This is the kind of "smart sci-fi" everyone hailed Inception as being, only better, and it's got more Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I loved the thoughtful details in the sets and characters, paired with quick pacing and unexpected turns. It's the kind of movie you walk out of and think, "I need to see that again." It has some technical narrative flaws, certainly, but honestly what futuristic and/or time-travel-related movie doesn't? The manner in which the story unfolds made it easy for me to accept any minor issues I had.

Of course, the cast makes it. Gordon-Levitt is eerily believable as a young Bruce Willis thanks to fantastic make-up effects, and his transformation from complete asshole to asshole who's rethinking his assholey ways is compelling. Willis gets to be a super badass and also wear a bad hairpiece at one point, so everyone's happy, plus Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, and Noah Segan all have great smaller appearances as Joe's criminal cohorts. I loved Emily Blunt as the tough-as-nails Sara, a dedicated mother to a weird little boy. Her character and that of Old Joe's unnamed wife (played by Qing Xu) are sadly the most problematic, however. I liked Sara's gruffness and badassery right away, so I was pretty into her character at the start. By the end I was still on her side, but frustrated with how she had become a sort of mother-savior trope. Looper is certainly not the first or worst offender in this area, but goddammit I am just so sick of female characters defined wholly through their motherhood or mothering capacities, like that's the only way writers can make women relevant to their stories. Like I said I LIKED Emily Blunt's character, and I loved her performance, and her mother-ness certainly had bearing on the overall story (unlike Qing Xu's, who was portrayed only as a silent mystical savior for Old Joe), it just elicited these general feelings I have about this issue.

Ok so Looper is honestly a super solid, enjoyable movie that manages to be smart, thrilling, and emotionally resonant. Its script, performances, and visuals are all equally excellent. Yes, I had some problems with the female characters, which is a common gripe with sci-fi movies (and most movies, really), but they weren't enough to turn me off to the film as a whole. I acknowledge these problems but do my best to look past them, because there is such a great movie waiting past that hurdle.


Pair This Movie With: As referenced earlier, part of the premise is definitely reminiscent of The Terminator, a movie I'll always recommend despite its less-than-stellar handling of time travel. Or maybe if you want more time-traveling Bruce Willis you could do 12 Monkeys, which I've been meaning to re-watch for a while.


  1. I saw it too; I must say, I wasn't expecting the kid to have the TK super-powers. It made "the future" seem so much more grim. However, at the end of the film, there's no guarantee that he will grow up good though. So I was a bit dissatisfied.

  2. Here's a thing, time travel in this movie was completely irrelevant, the film could have happened just the same without it. As far as I can tell Emily Blunt needed to be a woman for no reason whatsoever apart from the fact that there were no female "characters" if they didn't and they also had excuse for another terrible Hollywood sex scene. This might have been more interesting if they'd had a terrible father returning to look after his strange little boy, seeing as Rian Johnson apparently loves to subvert genre tropes, hell there could even have been a gay sex scene if they needed it.