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Looper Is A Fantastic Time Travel Film

Written and directed by Rian Johnson
TriStar, 2012

Rian Johnson has made quite the impact since his heady feature debut, Brick.  He also took on two episodes of what is arguably the best television show going, Breaking Bad, and his last film, The Brothers Bloom, was a lot of fun.  Looper was getting a lot of buzz before its release as one of the best science fiction films since…whatever you want to call the last great science fiction film.  Which is curious, because the release date of September 28, which is still very much September (dumping ground), always makes me wonder how a classic can be released in such a month.

But now my thinking has changed.  After a stellar weekend last week with End of Watch, the wider release of The Master, and the way, way better than I would have ever given it credit for Dredd opening, the idea that bad movies come out in September isn’t true anymore (and even though Lawless opened in late August, I’m going to include it here).  With Looper, I’m beginning to wonder if these forgotten months are now where we can find really good movies, either because the studios don’t know what a good movie is anymore and don’t know how to market them, or because they are so deathly afraid of the summer months and the holidays that the real gems only have a chance in a month like September.  Last year’s small critical favorite Drive opened in September last year.

Looper concerns Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, having a hell of a year), an assassin who kills people the mob sends 30 years from the future, where “human tagging” makes disposal of bodies nearly impossible, and where time travel itself has just been invented and considered illegal.  These victims arrive at an exact time where they are instantly blown away, and with silver bars strapped to their back as payment.  A looper will end up having to kill his own future self, sent back through time, should he live to that point.  The reward is thirty years of wealthy living, but forget about having a real life.

Which is what future Joe (Bruce Willis), does.  He meets a woman (Summer Qing) and plans to spend the rest of his life with her, only to be pulled out of that life and sent back to get shot by his younger self.  It’s a unique and awesome perspective to see the logical procession of events: at first, we see the failed attempt of Joe killing Old Joe, and the repercussion of his actions.  But we also see the successful attempt, the attempt that actually happens first in the sequence of events.  We see Joe live thirty years, meet the woman, and get sent back, but this time with a different thing on his mind: the Terminator-style erasing of a child known as the Rainmaker who will one day be responsible for all the loopers being sent back in time early and mercilessly blown away.  Once we see the failed attempt, the movie moves on to its next stage: Old Joe wanting to kill one of three children that could be the Rainmaker, and Young Joe finding a farm run by Sara (Emily Blunt), who is the mother of one of the three children (Pierce Gagnon) Old Joe seeks, knowing that he will come there and knowing he can kill Old Joe and close his loop.

If a lot of this is confusing, it’s meant to be in the terms of a review.  I can’t really explain much more without it getting spoiled.  I should mention that Jeff Daniels plays mob boss Abe in this, and he plays the benevolent, but dangerous mob boss very well, with lots of humor.

The time travel is told with a very good logic.  Like all time travel stories, you’ll probably see some paradoxes here and there, although I feel like the movie does a good job of explaining why those paradoxes happen.  What is absolutely brilliantly handled is the “successful attempt, failed attempt” sequence of events, which at first is confusing but after a little bit of thought, makes great sense.  Rian Johnson packs this full of camera tricks that are exciting and meaningful to the action.  I haven’t seen a thoughtful science fiction film like this since Inception.  But then again, maybe if you didn’t like Inception, you’ll like this even more.  It’s not nearly the “summer blockbuster” kind of film Inception was.  Looper requires thought to process, but it also isn’t in a huge hurry to go to a bunch of action set pieces.  The pacing of Looper, which varies from quick action to slow moments of dialogue, really wrapped me in.

Really, if movies took half the time to think like this movie does, we’d be living in a utopia when it comes to movies.  This has been a great month of movies, the type you don’t see much of anymore: well thought-out, unconcerned with needing to “attention deficit disorder” you to death with flash editing, stupid plot construction, and special effects.  Looper is definitely a winner.

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