Film Review: Looper
Director: Rian Johnson (2012)
An unfortunate trend (and sign I need to get my French on) appears to have sunk into the Hollywood act of naming a film. The process seems to run along the lines of, ‘we’re guaranteed a big audience if we give our film a one word title that doesn’t actually describe the film’. So a few years ago we got legion, which was actually about a half dozen people in a petrol (gas if you’re one of those drone loving Americans) station, Jumper which was actually about teleporting and Battleship, which was actually about Battleships. Now (or rather for a while now but I’m only just getting around to reviewing it) there’s Looper, which is actually about time travel, or rather a dude who time travels.
The dude who time travels is named Joe Simmons and gets portrayed by two men, Bruce Willis (who has previous in this sort of thing) appears as the grizzled time traveller version of Joe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has previous with Rian Johnson) plays a version of Joe who wears putty on his face to try and look like a young Bruce Willis.
Oh by the way we’re in the plot summary, snuck up on you didn’t it!
Set in the year 2044, Joe (Gordon-Levitt face putty version) is a bit of a drug addict (like all future drugs it’s administered by pouring liquid into the eye, because that’d definitely the route drug administration will take) which may have something to do with his job. In Joe’s future, which now I think about it is also our future, but Joe’s present is also our future FUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK this time travel stuff’s hard!
Ok gonna try again, apparently in Joe’s future The Mafia found it easier to develop time travel technology (or maybe just steal it heard The Mafia are into that) than to dispose of a body. Putting two and two together and getting 1,000,000,005 they decided the sensible course of action was to send a guy called Abe (nicely played by Jeff Daniels, but criminally underused) to set up a company to receive bodies from the future and execute them. The payments for the executioners or Loopers as The Mafia calls them (I’ll explain why in approximately three sentences) are blocks of silver attached to the body of the guy sent back in time to be killed. Seems to me like it’d be easier to just send a guy back in time and murder the childhood version of whoever you didn’t want living in the future but that might just me being lazy, or there’s some sort of time travel rule in place (there isn’t).
But wait (here’s where I explain the moniker Loopers) there’s a catch, The Mafia have some sort of issue with time travel, or time travellers, so what they do is catch their executioners 30 years later and send them back in time to be specifically killed by their younger self. Once this happens the executioner has ‘closed his loop’ (see what they did there) and thus is free to enjoy a golden handshake and the next thirty years of his life before being black bagged and sent back in time to be killed by his younger self, who is then free to enjoy a golden handshake and the next thirty years of his life before being black bagged and sent back in time to be killed by his younger self, who is then free to enjoy a golden handshake and the next thirty years of his life before being black bagged and sent back in time to be killed by his younger self, who is then free to enjoy a golden handshake and the next thirty years of his life before being black bagged and sent back in time to be killed by his younger self, who is then free to……………………… and so on.
…………..I would have liked more Jeff Daniels……….
But things go a bit wrong because Bruce Willis future version of Joe doesn’t want to be killed. Here’s a fun game, in the next five seconds name one film in which Bruce Willis has died. Not easy is it, rule of thumb if Bruce Willis doesn’t want to die then no matter what you do he won’t (there’s 14 apparently) and if he’s fighting for love, well then you better build a fort around yourself, pray to whatever none existent god you believe in and make sure you don’t give him a machine gun. Sadly for Gordon-Levitt version of Joe, Bruce Willis version is fighting for love (she doesn’t get a name but is played by Xu Qing, a talented actress so criminally underused it makes the Jeff Daniels criminal underuse look like a 9 hour epic in comparison) and so he forgoes the ‘I had my turn now you have yours’ gentlemanly approach in favour of one that involves throwing silver at people’s heads.
Actually, that’s the second time we see a Looper fail to kill his future self. Seth Richards (Paul Dano, used well enough), a fellow Looper accidently let his future self (Frank Brennan, haven’t seen enough of him to comment on how well he was used) escape after hearing him singing a song. The result was not good. 2044 Seth tried to hide in Gordon-Levitt Joe’s floor safe but was caught, leading to an awesome scene where future Seth finds a scar on his arm telling him to be somewhere in fifteen minutes and then slowly falls apart as The Mafia cut off parts of 2044 Seth’s body.
So not a good idea to let your future self-live then. After a meeting in a café the two Joes realise there just isn’t any practical way to settle their differences and run away from each other. Bruce Willies Joe sets off to find a child who in the future grows up to be a world dictator called The Rainmaker while Gordon-Levitt goes to a farm where the future Rainmaker may live to wait for his future self. At the farm he finds Cid, a slightly off child (played by Pierce Gagnon who delivers one of the finest child performances I’ve ever seen) and his tough as nails but also sensitive and capable everywoman mother Sarah (Emily Blunt in fine form).
Oh and not fitting into the rest of the plot summary but also worth mentioning are three things. One, in 2044 about ten percent of the population have a small telekinetic power. Two, Piper Parabo is underused as a stripper named Suzie and Three, Noah Segan delivers a great performance as a rash hitman for The Mafia named Kid Blue.
Oh and not really worth mentioning but it’s my review so I will damn it! Garret Dillahunt out of Raising Hope cameos as a mob guy.
Plot summary you didn’t realise had begun finishes.
After finishing watching Looper with a girl who for some unknown reason feels comfortable letting me to violate her, I felt sort of numb, so I turned and asked her ‘bitch, what’d you reckon?’ She began to mumble a reply but I quickly stood up and screamed ‘silly woman, no one cares what your sex thinks!’ At which point she beat the shit out of me. Perspective thus gained I re-joined the twenty-first century moral view on gender equality and asked kindly what she thought of the film, her response was that she liked it. ‘So did I’ thought I, going to bed safe in the knowledge I had watched a pretty gosh darn good film. Then I began thinking about the story and my brain hurt. The next morning I dived out of bed, made breakfast for the girl who’s just blind enough to find me attractive and came to a realisation; there’re more holes in the plot of Looper than there are tired Swiss cheese analogies for things that have holes in them.
Engaging explanation of the above paragraph…………….
Let’s begin with the pretty gosh darn good film bit. I didn’t realise (or rather didn’t bother to check) who directed Looper so was absolutely delighted to discover it was Rian Johnson, because he directed Brick, and Brick is awesome. You can see touches of brick in Looper, there’s a tight focus on characters with a slow but steady pace and by the end you feel like you’ve been through something deep. The acting’s excellent and the focus being on the story enables the entire cast chances to shine at least a little (and they do, it’s a hell of a cast), I would have liked to have seen more of Jeff Daniels though, but I already said that, or did I, maybe I didn’t but I went back in time and changed the review to say I did, who’s to say?
There’s also some intelligent stuff at play here and like Brick (yes I will marry Brick) the audience are treated as beings capable complicated thoughts and feelings, people who can follow and enjoy a complex story, people who actually enjoy emphasising with realistic, well rounded characters. There’s a moment where Bruce Willis has to kill someone he really shouldn’t, the aftermath is the sight of Bruce Willis basically breaking down as he struggles to contain the remorse he feels for his actions. Making one death mean something is not only a skill but damn good story telling, in the time it took Bruce to kill one undeserving individual (living out one of a crappy retail supermarket workers dreams at the same time) Arnie’s usually murdered half a dozen faceless guys in camouflage, yet for every Arnie film I’ve seen and guiltily enjoyed, this scene will always be more interesting, if a little lacking in the visceral one liners department. I suppose it’s just nice to see value placed on a single life and death treated as something serious for a change.
Things do get a bit sodden later on when Johnson gives in to the Bruce Willis machinegun corridor side of things, but even that gets saved by a nice trick where the audience are treated to the build-up of the inevitable stand-off, then jumped forward in time to the sight of a character waking up and discovering the aftermath of an angry Bruce Willis with a machine gun. Skipping over a long drawn out shootout to maintain story focus is the sign of a good or confident filmmaker and Johnson is definitely that. There’s also some nice homages to films as far and wide as Akira, and if you homage Akira I’m pretty sure you bring the world one step closer to perfection.
But for all the good, those plot holes cannot be ignored.
The time travel stuff, despite being a stupid premise is just too inconsistent. One minute we discover Bruce Willis is gaining new memories as Gordon-Levitt’s character makes them, indicating changing timelines, the next we’re told whatever happens to your past self will permanently change your future self, the next we’re told it doesn’t matter what your past self-does your future self is a separate entity, then that backtracks at the end.
Then there is the aforementioned wastefulness of certain characters (JEFF DANIELS if I haven’t made that point already, maybe I’ll go back in time and make it, then go back again and mention how I might have already gone back in time to make it). Some sub plots involving the mafia organisation basically peter out to the point of being inconsequential and there are one too many moments of plot convenience, the worst being a moment where Noah Segan’s character basically stops Gordon Levitt’s being killed only to then try and kill him again but spectacularly fail because it would have spoiled the film if Gordon-Levitt had died then and there.
Looper is a good, well-made film; it’s well acted, nicely paced, ambitious and gains kudos for attempting to be complex, I like it, I really do and (this is where I start to sharpen my knife for the final insult) it does nothing to make me urge the none-existent people who read these reviews from watching it. However, neither can I recommend it, the focus is on the story, which is great (here’s where the knife comes into play) but it’s a lazy, poorly thought-out story. To be complex you must first make sense, otherwise you simply fall into the category of bullshit. There are too many inconsistencies that grate and too much that you have to put in the back of your mind in order to maintain an emotional connection.
That all said (here’s where I take the knife out and give a reassuring back-rub) to see a complex and ambitious film with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead achieve such heavy promotion is reason to celebrate. I hope Looper does/has done well, I hope it shows there’s still a large market for good, complex story-telling, it’s just a shame that good complex story-telling and a good complex story are not the same thing.
Written By Sam ‘Maybe YOU’RE too harsh’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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