Review: Looper

“This time travel crap just fries your brain like an egg,” sighs Jeff Daniels in Looper, the latest sci-fi thriller to employ this notoriously tricky narrative device. The conflict at the crux of the film explores the possibility of meeting your future self, or, meeting your past self, a breeding ground for a plethora of psychological and philosophical analyses. Instead, Looper becomes more engaged with its plot than in the full personal ramifications of its protagonists’ discoveries. There are solid performances and crisp visuals, but instead, Looper goes from gripping to loopy by the time it arrives at its midpoint.

The first half hour of Looper is solely exposition, so complicated is the world a mere 32 years from now. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a looper employed by crime organizations, who in 2074 access time travel machines to send their victims back 30 years whom Joe efficiently disposes of. The world has become an increasingly messy place, and Joe represents the lowest and meanest of the human race as he kills in cold blood for lump sums of silver. For all of its excessive setup, the film manages to be compelling, showcasing a flashy montage of Joe’s day to day life, from his kill spot in rural Kansas to his high octane urban prowling at night. Joe himself isn’t terribly interesting, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance sells him well as a man who intends to be isolated once he is freed from his work. The key to this is “closing the loop” in which a looper kills his future self and is paid handsomely for it. When Joe’s time finally comes, his aged self knocks him to the ground, and it should come as no surprise considering Joe grows up to be Bruce Willis. Both men are quite solid in their role with Willis playing predictably fine tough guy vibes, and Gordon-Levit playing a near flawless younger Willis, who exhales more than he needs to for dramatic emphasis.

Once the plot kicks in and younger Joe goes on the hunt for his elder self, the film keeps up a relentless pace. The dialogue is witty in parts, but can’t escape its continuously excessive exposition. The film does well not to linger too much on its time travel mechanics, revealing in a singular montage the entirety of Joe’s first life up until his initial loop back to the past. It is then that the film halts in a dialogue heavy, but nicely composed, mano a mano scene when both Joes meet at their favorite diner. When the elder Joe’s objective becomes clear, the stakes are raised and yet the film shifts to a more pastoral, leisurely pace reflected by its largely rural setting in its second half. The younger Joe meets a mother and son, whom he swears to protect, and though the narrative works conceptually, the execution falters.

Despite its narrative struggles, technically, Looper has much to admire. Director Rian Johnson went with a specific visual style in mind, with precise compositions and razor sharp camera movements, in addition to an initially captivating editorial pace. Lens flares abound in Looper as well, but they feel less distracting and more purposeful here than they do in a nostalgia tinged J.J. Abrams film. The score is also notable, underlining Joe’s accelerating work life while suggesting deeper conflicts beyond his moment to moment existence. The little details are fun as well, such as the Chinese currency becoming dominant in America. The fact remains, however, that Looper lacks any kind of thematic depth beyond its typical character revelations which serve the plot. Perhaps there is a nod to Nietzsche, who posed that when an individual dies, he is doomed to repeat his life over and over, but such a connection would be a stretch. Indeed, Looper works well enough in its first half to hint at something grander, but without any metaphor or allegory and a deflated second half, what could be great ends up simply loopy.

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~ by romancinema on October 2, 2012.

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