Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
Oh, Bruce, you’ve done it again. After knocking it out of the park with Twelve Monkeys and then taking a dump in the Gatorade with Disney’s The Kid, Bruce Willis decided to redeem his last time travel mistake and star in Looper, the story of a young assassin named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who kills targets dropped off from the future, a time when murder is harder to get away with. Still with me? When Joe grows up, he’s supposed to go back in time to be killed by his younger self, closing the loop forever. But, there’s one problem they never saw coming: he grows up to be Bruce Willis.
This movie has its detractors, to be sure. There are a lot of supposed holes in the story. I find most of them to simply be unanswered questions, and not in a Prometheus “I didn’t bother to finish writing this part” sort of way. What’s important is that these questions are deliberately a part of the movie. They’re what make it interesting. You get to talk about it once it’s over! Remember that feeling?
“Ugh, this is as bad as Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Inception!”
An example I can share because it’s right in the beginning: it’s becoming suspicious that more and more loopers (the time assassins) are ending their contracts earlier than they thought. It turns out that somebody in the future is going around disposing of the loopers, even killing those closest to them in the process. This is when you can point out that murder is supposed to be difficult to pull off in the future due to “tagging techniques,” so doesn’t the whole premise fall apart?
That or Somebody in the Future must be terrifyingly unstoppable.
Alright, I’m not here to be a story apologist. Yes, you can nitpick over some plot points (even… the time rules…), but the fact remains that this is a well-paced, action-packed, poignant story. It’s hard to hit the jackpot on all three these days, and Looper delivers. It’s about the actions taken by characters, regardless of how well they (or we) understand the situations they’ve been presented with. It’s a meditation on how one desperately reacts to a lack of information and a lack of time.
Or, you know, you can spend the whole movie complaining about a guy’s nose.
“He looks nothing like the kid from Angels in the Outfield. Turn it off!”
I could pretty much just rattle off the IMDb cast list and give a thumbs-up, but here we go. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a fine Bruce Willis: The Early Years, which is probably helped by the fact that Bruce is pretty much being John McClane here. Sure, he could have changed up his performance (like he did in Twelve Monkeys), but it’s just so damn entertaining to watch Joseph hone in on all the Willis traits we’ve come to know and love.
Why does Bruce Willis always hang around diners with his younger selves?
Jeff Daniels is a stand-out as organized crime organizer Abe, who comes from the future to oversee all the looper business and is a bit… loopy himself. Oh. Ouch. I just did that. Excuse me. Scenes between Daniels and Gordon-Levitt are informational but natural, and that warmth makes Abe’s cutting of the bullshit that much more tense. You almost get the feeling they improvised a bit on the set.
“Now do it like your character has a watermelon for a head!”
Okay, I lied, I’m going to list the actors. Emily Blunt is a badass in this!
Paul Dano makes a great weasely looper!
Whoa, and he kinda looks like Station.
Even the kid isn’t awful!
A rarity for a Bruce Willis film.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
For a movie about the future, CGI is used only when necessary and you can tell some effects were achieved practically. The time travel, however, I have a grudge with.
Piercing the fabric of space-time is represented as a straight cut, and I hate that… because I wanted to do it first. As much as I was obsessed with Back to the Future as a kid, I always thought the lights and explosions were excessive. I wanted to be the guy who made a time travel movie with a huge budget while also using nothing but jump cuts for the temporal displacement, because logically, time travel should look like Jeannie just blinked you into existence.
Ask your parents.
So that’s why I hate you, Looper. Because you’re cool. You’re so cool.
- Rewatching this movie reminded me just how many layers of subtext are in it. I’ve got all kinds of notes on themes I didn’t pick up the first time around.
- Looper has many Western and noir influences. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and writer/director Rian Johnson previously collaborated on Brick, a modern day film noir. Come on, Rian, you’ve conquered the present and the future; can’t we get a hard-boiled black-and-white JGL in a fedora roaming around 1940s Chicago?
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Old Joe would really rather not discuss the rules with Young Joe.
“I don’t want to talk about time travel shit. ‘Cause if we start talking about it, then we’re gonna be here all day.
Talkin’ about it, makin’ diagrams with straws. It doesn’t matter.”
Looper is not a perfect film, but it’s a damn good one. Multiple characters refuse to discuss how time travel works, but it’s fairly obvious they’re talking to the audience, not each other, and if you play along, you’ll enjoy yourself. Yes, some of the rules don’t quite stack up, but the layers and the messages are what really make it a modern classic. Pair it with the temporally airtight Twelve Monkeys for a Willis Wayback Weekend and have some great conversations after each. Just make sure you “forget” to toss Disney’s The Kid in the bag as well.
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.