"We both know what has to go down. So why don't you do what old men do, and die."
One of the most assured directorial debuts of the last decade was Rian Johnson's 2005 modern film noir Brick, a film that I admire on many levels, but don't necessarily like. The film is also notable as one of two films from the same year, along with the masterful Mysterious Skin, to re-introduce former child television star Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a big screen actor with serious chops. Their latest re-teaming is Looper, a science fiction/action film that isn't short on science fiction, action or ambition...
In the year 2044, Joe (Gordon-Levitt) works as a Looper, a hitman that executes people sent back from the future. Essentially time travel is only used by a corrupt entity that utilizes it to send people back 30 years into the past to be eliminated. It pays well, keeping most of the Loopers on the upper end of the societal echelon, as the future is even further racked with financial decay, but the job is not without its inherent risks. The biggest risk of all is that eventually, one of their hits will be their own future selves, effectively "closing the loop" and erasing all traces of the relationship.
When the story opens, the Loopers are being flooded with loop closings, left and right. Joe begins to become leery of this proposition, and naturally, when his own time comes, he's overpowered by his future self (Bruce Willis) which sets off a series of cataclysmic events that threaten not just the future, but the present as well. I won't go into any further details of the plot, as the film is just now being released nationwide, but rest assured that the film has some twists up its sleeve that are radically unpredictable, and the film will keep you guessing right up until its final moments.
First of all, it must be stated that the premise for this film is ingenious. It creates a fully realized science fiction world that you'll have no problem buying into and going along with. It's captivating, and although it does rely heavily on voice-over narration by Joe to explain the rules of the world, it's never done in a distracting way, giving you information precisely when you need it. There are numerous parallels you can draw between this film and other time travel films, most notably 12 Monkeys, but it is most certainly its own animal, indebted to the past but not beholden to it.
This theme comes through in the costume choices as well, having fun with the premise that past fashion has become in vogue again, as nothing is ever new, it merely recycles itself. The organization that Joe works for is headed by Abe (Jeff Daniels) who is from the future, and conveys the aforementioned theme through a pretty brilliantly written exchange with Joe near the beginning of the film. It's sly without ever calling attention to it, and for that it has to be admired.
For as much as there is to admire about the film, however, I'm left feeling hollow by it. The film is so smart, and plays so fast and loose with the very concept of time travel and its implications, that the major driving plot device behind the film's final hour almost made me angry. It's seriously difficult for me to explain without going into major spoiler territory, but you'll know it when it happens, and while it may work great for some, it totally took me out of the movie. For me, it was akin to the moment in Superman Returns when the kid shoves the piano at the henchman, and that's almost more than I want to say about it.
There are two gaping plot holes that I can't get past, only one of which I can discuss in a spoiler-free review. Why do the Loopers have to kill their own future selves? It seems as though this one action would be easy to solve, namely, give the hit to a different Looper. But I guess there wouldn't be a film if that were the case, so it seems almost ridiculous to discuss. I'd be happy to discuss the other one in a future post, once more people have seen the film, but it was a pretty big deal breaker for me.
The performances are very good across the board. Gordon-Levitt is great as always, and his makeup is much more convincing in the context of the film than I think it comes across in the advertising. It's not distracting at all. Willis is also great, as is Daniels who arguably got the best written character in the film. Emily Blunt, whom I haven't mentioned at all, is also very good, and plays one of the better written females in a science fiction film.
Overall, I have to admire a film that's this bold and innovative, even if I don't like the ultimate plot of the film. Ultimately, I was disappointed by the route they decided to take the premise, and was left with the distinct feeling that the film could have ended in a million different ways, but they ended up choosing the most violent and mindless ending possible.
For a film that had so much thought and care put into every aspect of it, I question why they felt the need to turn it into a bloodbath by the end, seemingly deflating any of the subtlety that they had spent so much time cultivating. I recommend the film for sci-fi geeks and film lovers, because it is so original and admirable, but don't be surprised if you find yourself leaving the theater wishing that there had been more to it than a great premise.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]