“Looper” is the freshest take on time travel films in years

By Jay Krieger

Bruce Willis in “Looper” (Photo by Jay Krieger)

WARNING: Contains slight spoilers
Time travel is one of those sub-science fiction genres of films that simply don’t resonate with me. These films usually boil down to our protagonist trying to find a way home and trying not to change the past as to not alter the future. Fortunately, “Looper” is a refreshing take on the time travel genre as it provides a unique underworld crime setting as well as being complimented with stellar characters and actor performances.
In about 30 years, time travel will be invented and quickly outlawed. Despite this it will be utilized in secret by crime syndicates worldwide and the mob will hire hit men known as Loopers. Loopers, who live in the past, eliminate targets that the mob sends from the future to them, thus eliminating possible threats in the future. Meet Joe (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and when it comes to Loopers, he’s one of the best. Despite being a cold blooded murderer for a living, Joe’s life is pretty laid back, as him [he] and his associates joy ride in sport cars, drink, attend night clubs and are functioning junkies. Although there is a catch to this seemingly lavish lifestyle, in addition to being a murderer. Eventually, a Looper will have to eliminate his future self and thus terminate his contract as a Looper. Once that time comes a Looper is free to live out their life until they are eventually killed in the future, also known as closing their loop. Not the most forward thinkers. Meanwhile the rest of the world is portrayed as an impoverished metropolitan with murders occurring just around every corner. And through some type of mutation, a small percentage of the population are born with telekinetic powers, though for most the extent of these powers is merely levitation.
Then that fateful day arrives when Joe needs to close his Loop. Though things don’t go according to plan, as his future self (played by Bruce Willis) escapes and is determined to try and re-shape the future. And despite the warnings he gives to young Joe, young Joe will stop at nothing to preserve the quality of his life. The plot may sound pretty standard by time travel film definition, but the way that writer and director Rian Johnson introduces the audience to the world of the Loopers is flawlessly done. His portrayal of the year 2044  is a  bleak one and you could even argue, are parallels to our world. The pacing of introducing the audience to the film’s universe is concise and portrayed smoothly. And to be blatantly honest I thought the first half of this film was excellent.
The film also makes a point not to get bogged down with the typical time travel jargon. The film literally says, “hey, we’re not going to waste time discussing how time travel works or else we’re going to be here all day.” It gives you the basics and continues on, there is no thirty minute monologue about time travel. The film gives you just enough so you can understand the concept, and then the story continues. It’s more of a pit stop rather than bringing the film to a complete halt in order to try and explain the fundamentals of time travel.
I was surprised at the level of acting in this film, as the trailer made it look more of an action movie, and I think most would overlook the characters. Gordon-Levitt plays a Looper who despite being only interested in Silver (payment received for each kill) he seems to want more out of life. Willis (old Joe) is portrayed as a man who will do some pretty despicable and heinous actions to ensure that he is able to stop events form happening in his future. Halfway through, the gorgeous Emily Blunt is introduced. Where the former two actors are gritty and heartless killers, Blunt is simply trying live her life and to protect her son.
As Gordon-Levitt and Willis are portraying the same character, Younger Joe (Gordon-Levitt) must embody many of Willis’s facial expressions and mannerisms. It’s almost haunting when comparing the two, as the similarity between them is almost uncanny, and one can tell that a lot of thought went into perfecting the portrayal of a young Willis. While clearly special effects and makeup were used to alter Gordon-Levitt appearance, I’d give the man more credit for his ability to copy aspects of Willis such as his soft spoken voice or copying similar facial movements.
Despite my high praise of the first half of the film, the second half left something to be desired as the films substance begins to stagger, rather crawl. A heavy emphasis on those that have telekinetic powers and what they can do with them takes center stage to the plot, and these were some of the least enjoyable scenes. Often these scenes are over dramatic and simply come off as cheesy, compared to the dark and gritty crime setting. At the beginning of the film there are subtle hints to telekinetic, such as advertisements about it and people making items such as quarters levitate, but then there are scenes where one character is able to throw people across rooms. These felt silly and change the tone of this crime syndicate style film significantly.
With any crime film, or film that deals with murder, there are a considerable amount of shoot outs. Unfortunately, “Looper” isn’t all that well choreographed. With the exception of a scene or two, the gun play feels incredibly weak as one scene in particular zooms all the way in on Willis face as he fires dual sub-machine guns and starts yelling and yipping. Yeah, it was more than silly. That said, one of the best and most graphic scenes of the film is that of Young Joe explaining what Loopers are as a montage plays of him carrying out executions. The brutal nature of the scene sets the tone for the first half of the film , and it’s unfortunate that tone is changed during the second half.
Overall, the film does a great job at delivering a fresh and original time travel concept. And as much as I loved the setting and universe, by the end of the film I wished they had done more with it. The movie went from being about a crime syndicate dealing with future problems to a bizarre tale of special powers and how a person can be influenced to use them for good or evil. I can recommend this film based on the first half, and while I wasn’t a big fan of the second half, it didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the film.