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Rian Johnson’s time-travel action thriller ‘Looper’ hit theaters Friday, September 28, 2012 and competed with the family friendly ‘Hotel Transylvania.’ Initial reports show it holding up relatively well with a modest $21 million premiere and the reviews have been relatively positive. ‘Looper’ showcases stellar acting from its main protagonists, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, but falls short on some of the story elements and character development.
‘Looper’ takes place in the not-too-distant future where we follow the life of Joseph “Joe” Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is the titular Looper, or someone who is paid by a future mob boss to murder people that the boss sends back in time. The Loopers are paid handsomely for their work until they are no longer of use. When this happens, the Looper’s future self is sent back and he is required to kill him.
Shortly after meeting our protagonist, Joe’s future self, played by Bruce Willis, is sent back, but the encounter does not go as planned. Future Joe is not tied up so he knocks the young Joe out and escapes. He leaves a note telling Young Joe to run, but Young Joe ignores it and returns home only to find his boss’ henchmen looking for him. The two Joes later meet up and discuss what the problem is. Future Joe lived a full life and eventually got married to a lovely woman in Shanghai, but when the Looper henchmen showed up to collect him, they killed his wife.
Future Joe found out who ordered all the loops to be closed and it turned out to be a mysterious man called the Rainmaker. He found out there are three children who potentially grow up to be the Rainmaker so he wants to kill them to prevent the future death of his wife. However, Young Joe doesn’t care about finding the woman who changed Future Joe’s life and pursues him through a cornfield.
Young Joe finds the scrap of paper with coordinates on it that Future Joe had been carrying and finds a farm with a young mother, Sara (Emily Blunt), and her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon). He tells her he thinks his future self is going to come after them so he will stake out the farm until he shows up. She reluctantly agrees as long as Young Joe stays away from her troubled son. From there, the chaotic events tear the mother and son’s world asunder and force Joe to make harrowing decisions about his future.
‘Looper’ has great cinematography, good dramatic moments, and phenomenal acting by the main leads. Levitt’s body of work is already impressive with films like ‘Inception’ (2010) and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012), but this movie proves that he can handle the limelight as the main character. He imitates Bruce Willis’ grim smiles and verbal tics magnificently while still providing his own voice as the Young Joe. Willis is an action flick veteran and puts his best foot forward as the psychologically and morally tortured soul known as Future Joe. His pain is palpable and presents a load of questions for the audience to ponder over the course of the film.
However, ‘Looper’ has a few issues. First, the time travel concept always creates confusing continuity questions that are not always addressed. For instance, there is a bit where Young Joe does kill Future Joe right as he appears and then they later show the version where he does not kill Future Joe. Thus, which of these events actually happened? It is by far one of the strangest parts of the film.
Second, the morality theme the movie plays with is long, exhausting, and may be grating to some viewers. Neither version of Joe is a good person. He is violent, he is addicted to drugs, he is unbelievably selfish and shortsighted, and he is generally not a nice man. However, the film seems to imply that Young Joe is the one the audience should be rooting for because he protects Cid and Sara, but at the same time, Future Joe only wants to protect his future wife. Both of them do unspeakably horrible things so it is hard to relate to either one or want them to succeed.
Third, one of the minor characters, Kid Blue (Noah Segan) is a thoroughly useless character who has no arc and serves very little purpose, but he uses up such a large part of the screen time that his ultimate fate is disappointing. It seemed unnecessary to include him when his story does not enhance anything else in the movie.
‘Looper’ takes some risks and loses a few times, but overall, it is worth a watch.