I am going to sing the praises of this movie to no end, so let me qualify that with a warning. It is not for children. There is nudity, some of it in scenes important for plot and characterization. The violence is also brutal, and sometimes highly disturbing. So watch it, but be forewarned.
If one word can sum up this movie, that’s it. Looper is a gangster movie with a time-travelling sci-fi setup. It breaks the mold of most time travel movies by completely subjecting the logic of time travel to the needs of the story. And boy, does it tell a story. Right off the bat we are drawn into this intriguing universe, which then pulls us in further by adding multiple interesting characters who grab your attention and won’t let go. Two of these characters are one man, Joe, played in his younger incarnation by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and in his older incarnation by Bruce Willis. Both are excellent actors to begin with, but the degree to which they imitate each others’ tics and quirks is amazing. Gordon-Levitt in particular earned my respect with his performance, and I am looking forward to seeing him work elsewhere.
Painting the Darkness
Hollywood is good at glamorizing things. Their job is to make us enjoy what’s on screen so that we come back for more. But when what’s on screen is criminal activity, glamorization is the last thing we need. That is one of many places where Looper went right.
The first good chunk of the movie consists of hired guns driving fast, doing drugs, and messing around with women of ill repute. Things quickly go south, however, as one of the gunmen goes on the run, gets tracked down, and is brutally assaulted by the boss’s men. The drug users suffer withdrawals, and the strippers live in run-down homes in the bad part of town. At every place where Joe’s life of crime at first seems romanticized, the magic is killed.
This comes home in a powerful way when Joe from the future goes on his rampage. These scenes are not shot to make Bruce Willis appear heroic, something he is good at. Instead he is portrayed, as a friend of mine put it, like a mad dog that needs putting down. There is no doubt when he starts shooting that everyone in his way will die, and he quickly, brutally, and effectively executes them in a manner which leaves no time for drama or lingering excitement. Instead, we are left in shock as he takes out all of his targets.
“Love conquers all” is a trope of modern storytelling. If the guy falls in love with the girl, whatever he does is justified. The moment he lays eyes on her and she lays eyes on him and the music starts playing, we know exactly who to sympathize with. But in real life, this is not the case. Bonnie and Clyde may have been in love, but they were brutal killers. Hitler carried on his affair with Eva Braun for over a decade before they were married and practically died in one another’s arms. The worst monsters in history can be struck by romance, and Hollywood’s portrayal of love does not always reflect this.
This is yet another place where Looper goes right. Bruce-Willis-Joe is motivated by the desire to save his future wife from her eventual murder at the hands of his former employers. But to do so, he becomes a brutal murderer of innocent children and of any man who gets in his way. He cannot be reasoned with, and by the end of the movie is utterly depraved. The way this was pulled off is utterly superb.
Another common notion in modern sci-fi is the question of whether it would be right, if we had the capability, to go back in time to when Hitler was a child and off him before he has the chance to hurt anyone. Doctor Who explored the idea, and Minority Report is a feature-length exploration of the concept. Looper does as well, and I believe the answer it gives is right.
The ending is crucial. It can separate a tragedy from a comedy and shed new light on everything that preceded. This is one more place where Looper goes right. Every thread is resolved, and resolved magnificently. From the moment my butt hit the seat, I was seeing ways Looper could go wrong, indications of how it could end horribly. As the story progressed, this nervous tension grew. I was going to be extremely angry if it did any number of things it could have done. But at every place where it could go wrong, it went right instead. In the conclusion, all that potential comes together in a bright and glorious moment that left me utterly satisfied with this movie.
Go see Looper. It’s worth your time.