Just a quick disclaimer. Looper isn’t based on a book and I usually try to keep this site centered on books or movies based off books, but if it’s good sci-fi, I’m going to include it here because this is a sci-fi oriented site and I write sci-fi. I should also point out that I don’t particularly like doing reviews on the site, but I do make exceptions when I want to say a bunch of nice things about a book/movie. So, when reviews appear on my site they tend to be positive schmaltz fests. This will also be a rather broad, mostly spoiler free review.
So, Looper. I enjoyed the movies that writer/director Rian Johnson did before Looper, even though they had their flaws and may be to an extent esoteric products. Johnson sometimes gets comparisons to being a sort of Wes Anderson lite, which might help explain the mildly esoteric nature of his work. Like Wes Anderson, not everyone is going to be on the same wavelength as what he is making, but that’s okay. It happens and you either like what he makes or you don’t.
His first film, Brick, was a cool movie, but certainly wasn’t for everyone. Not everyone is going to appreciate a hybrid film noir homage set in a high school where the kids speak in highly stylized flurries. Cool idea, well executed for a low budget feature, very unique, but a bit of a niche movie when you step back and look at it.
His next film, The Brothers Bloom, has one of the more pitch perfect beginnings to a movie I’ve seen in quite awhile. It’s a quirky comedy about a pair of con men brothers who try to find their way in the world. The first 45 minutes of this film are just flat out great in my opinion. The last half is kind of all over the place though and never quite hits any of the creative peaks of the opening. Ultimately it disappoints in a sense because of the rather jarring dichotomy created by these two separate halves. Still another very unique, commendable film that I like very much.
But with his latest time travel tale Looper, Johnson has created his most accessible and consequently best product to date. It is a time travel story about Joe, a Looper or specialized assassin who kills marks sent to him from the future. The story’s dramatic turn comes when Joe must scramble to save himself after he fails to kill the future version of himself sent back for removal. This is a film that draws on a number of unexpected influences ranging from High Noon, Witness, Terminator, Pet Cemetery, X-Men and 12 Monkeys. I saw one apt movie review cite it is as a “Christopher Nolan movie with a sense of humor” and I find myself agreeing with that assessment.
The great thing about Looper though is that it will surprise you by ignoring many of the established conventions of the genre. I was very excited to see this movie, built up certain expectations for it, but ultimately found it to be a completely different movie when I saw it. I wasn’t disappointed by any means, just surprised. I suppose I was expecting something more along the lines of Shane Carruth’s Primer in terms of level of difficulty to follow and got something that was oddly straight forward, which to be honest, was quite refreshing. Looper is ambitious, creative, inventive, well-written and sometimes complex, but it is never convoluted to the point of frustration. Johnson really anchors this movie in some practical ideas (even in a sci-fi context) and I think this goes a long way toward making it an enjoyable film. In fact, it is these touches of simplicity that I find most rewarding about Looper. There are complex paradoxical situations created, but nothing on the level of Primer‘s brain hurt.
One of these aforementioned surprises has to be the Witness inspired last half hour of the film which almost exclusively takes place on a farm, bucking the massive finale set piece you would expect out of a sci-fi action movie. There is a large element of the plot (not to wade into spoiler territory) that almost doesn’t appear at all in previews, but when it is revealed, you don’t necessarily feel cheated or treat it as an unwelcome addition. Especially since the two characters involved in this thread and the actors portraying them are so strongly written and directed.
I feel as though I’ve only taken the time to praise Looper for being accessible and simplistic in a genre that often produces convoluted, niche films. There is so much more to the film though and if you go to see it, you will discover a tense, nuanced, well-written, acted, designed and directed picture. I’m not even touching on how solid some things are like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance, the makeup and prosthetics used for the young Bruce Willis look, Jeff Daniels being reliably great, Paul Dano being reliably whiny and a number of other nice touches. I also want to commend director Rian Johnson for being so open about answering questions regarding the film and even going as far as releasing a downloadable commentary track that people can play on their iPods while watching it in theaters.
Either way, go see Looper. It’s bound to be less polarizing than Prometheus, much easier to take a date to and has a few scenes of great vintage Die Hard era Bruce Willis at work. Can’t ask for much more than that in a trip to the movies.
Also, if you have seen the film and don’t mind drifting into spoiler territory, check out these cool Looper links: