Along with being a pretty enjoyable Sci-Fi suspense picture, I have the weird duty to report that 2012’s ‘Looper’ may be the overall best movie about mass suicide and attempted child murder that I’ve ever seen. Not that I have seen that many films like this mind you, nor do I particularly hope the genre catches on; but for what it is, which is basically an amped up B-Movie Sci-Fi thriller (which was advertised as the second coming of ‘Inception’ unfortunately) with a better than average cast and script, this movie works quite well. Time travel stories, as I have said in other reviews, are very tricky to pull off right, opening you up to a world of conceivable issues and assorted junk that can, and have, sidetracked and sunk many an otherwise decent effort. Those paradoxes are here mind you, but they are covered up with enough polish, and they all play a part in the story instead of just being the unwanted distraction they usually are. The writers of this movie dealt with these issues quite smartly, by just stepping back and letting them crash into the story directly for the most part and then dealing with the fallout as it occurred on screen.
This is an ingenious move because instead of, as I normally do with these kinds of stories, sitting back and going “Well what if this” or “What if that” I just sat back and watched those ‘what ifs’ play out right in front of me, and then often saw them double back on themselves in a way that both added to the drama and continued the story itself, while, most importantly, getting those pesky buggers out of the way. Moreover, I found that ‘Looper’ proved itself to be a better time traveling movie than most by cleverly dealing with this all so directly, as it left me free to think about the larger themes here (not that there were a ton of large themes here though). Now I’m sure if someone wanted to take the time and pick apart this movie with a fine toothed comb you could deconstruct it in a way to show its many impossibilities and time continuum flaws, but as the movie was going in any event, those flaws were well enough concealed to allow me to focus on the characters and the story itself without the usual cloud of paradoxes hanging over the proceedings.
I also have to comment on the truly great job done here by both casting and make up, not to mention the actors themselves in this film. There isn’t a second of this movie that I questioned the prosthetics or the performances here, except to just be very pleasantly surprised as to how well it all came off. Joseph Gordon-Levitt apparently did wear a prosthetic nose to make himself more resemble a younger Bruce Willis, but if it weren’t for a little digging around I probably would never have noticed that. This is one of those neat little movies that we get every now and then, such as with a body switch comedy or the classic ‘Face Off’ with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage where you get the satisfaction of seeing two noted actors doing their best send ups and impersonations of each other, and as fun as that must be, especially with the other person standing right across from you in many scenes, they both did an admirable job of keeping it all just close enough to the vest as to maintain the crucial believability factor. Now, these two characters are supposed to be thirty years apart in age, and we have about thirty years of old Bruce Willis movies that remind us what Bruce looked like back then, which admittedly wasn’t much like Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks like here, but, if you can put that out of your mind (which I found I had no trouble doing) that should not serve as too big of a problem or a distraction here.
Now, on to the story itself; in the year 2044, as we are told by the opening narration for ‘Looper’ time travel is not yet possible, but in another thirty years from then, it will be. It will also be very, very illegal (we’re talking instant execution level illegal folks— no funny schtuff) as the future government, apparently not wanting a rash of Biff Tannens on their hands, outlaws it immediately upon discovering its existence. And so with that the primary people who utilize it are your general underworld element types. You know how the story goes; anything outlawed thus becomes instant fodder for the outlaws, regardless of if we’re talking bootleg liquor during the prohibition era, various narcotics since the inception of the war on drugs, and so it also shall apparently go with time itself. So as said, the mafia controls this whole shebang, and somewhere along the way someone comes up with a brilliant use of time travel (not quite as brilliant as the aforementioned Mr. Biff Tannen, but still pretty clever nonetheless) to use it to carry out contract killings. It works out like this. Got a guy you want dead? Put him in the time machine, send him back to a cornfield in B.F.E about thirty or so years ago, with the payment for the killing strapped to the guy’s chest (in the form of gold and silver bars, the everlasting commodities) and a hit man hired from the past will dispense of your unwanted associate and then dispose of his or her body way back in the past so that it can never be traced back to you.
The people who do these killings are a sad lot called ‘Loopers’. They are your general bottom of the barrel type characters, people so desperate in fact that they are willing when they sign up to agree to their own demise, at their own hands, some thirty or so years in the future. The act of killing your future self is called ‘Closing the loop’, and it is an essential part of the process here, in order to keep this whole deal under wraps. The people here for the most part don’t seem to mind. Lavish parties are thrown by the guys who have just closed their own loop. It is a very interesting piece of business to behold.
This is the line of work that our protagonist in this movie, Joe, played here in young and old versions by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis respectively, has chosen. Joe, one of the youngest Loopers ever to be recruited, was one of those kids who didn’t have a lot of choices growing up, and so when this old guy named Abe, played by Jeff Daniels in a wise old sage kind of performance a world away from his more famous clowning around in ‘Dumb and Dumber’, came along with a big freaking gun to give him (a cool futuristic Blunderbuss no less) and a handful of money, it was a very hard deal to decline. In this movie we see Joe’s day to day existence in this lavishly (but very, very bleak) imagined future world, going from kill to kill, knowing with certainty that sooner or later one of these victims will be the future version of himself, at which point he knows exactly how much time he has left to live. To fail to close your own loop is just about the worst sin you commit in this future world. Doing so makes you an instant target for every active ‘Looper’ in existence. We see one ‘Looper’ in this movie who fails to close his loop and that leads to a great chase scene in which both his younger and older version are being pursued, and we get to instantly see the effects of what is done to the younger version appear on the older version as the chase proceeds.
It’s no great spoiler to reveal that the young Joe here fails to close his loop, (at least the first time we see it happen anyway) or there would be no movie to watch. Old Joe, who originally was content to wait his time and die peaceably, is motivated here by the brutal and unnecessary version of his future wife to go back in time and destroy this whole set up entirely. So, it is no surprise that the majority of this movie is a kind of cat and mouse chase between the old and young versions of Joe, and all the other interested parties who have a vested interest in seeing both of them dead. There is also a solid back story involving this guy in the future called the Rainmaker, who is going around closing loops like nobody’s business. He has risen to power very swiftly in 2074, having very powerful telekinetic ability. He is not the first person to have documented telekinetic talents, as even in the world of 2044 this phenomenon has become common enough to be considered passé, as most people at that point only had enough power to perform juvenile stunts like floating a quarter or similar sized objects. The Rainmaker however, has considerably more punch to his powers, to say the least. And so with that being considered, he, (the childhood version of himself anyway) becomes a target for Old Joe, who now being trapped in the past dedicates himself to stopping the guy he sees as being responsible for this whole mess in the first place. And so this movie plays an interesting twist on the classic question of if a person had a chance to kill Hitler as a child, would it would be the moral thing to do?
There is one big wrinkle in this plan though. Old Joe has three possible candidates for who could be the future Rainmaker, and he will have to race against time, and literally, himself, to get to all of them before it is too late. Young Joe finds out about these plans during a conversation with the old version of himself at a local diner he frequents, in one of the best diner conversation scenes I have seen since Deniro and Pacino went head to head in ‘Heat’. From here, after a lot of gunplay and chase scenes, the majority of the movie takes place on old farm where, as luck would have it, the actual future Rainmaker, a young boy named Cid, lives with his mother Sara, played by Emily Blunt in a wonderfully tender, but still very tough performance. And of course this movie fails to deviate from the obvious and almost obligatory secondary love plot, as young Joe and Sara, the mother of the Rainmaker will fall in love. Count on it. It was at least handled professionally and with care though, so it did not annoy me as much as I expected it to.
As said, there are a lot of scenes in this movie taking place in various cornfields, and as a movie lover, I would love for there to be a list compiled of the great movies to have a good chunk of their action to take place in such a location. It’s just such an effective dramatic setting that works so well in standard horror movies (Children of the Corn), alien invasion movies (Signs), baseball movies (Field of Dreams), and now apparently time travel movies as well. So if there are any struggling corn farmers reading this right now, might I suggest in your leaner years putting an ad up on Craig list as an available spot for amateur film makers to ply their trade. Even if you don’t do that much of a profit you might just add some much needed ambiance to said party’s film; but I digress.
I think maybe if I had reviewed this movie right after I saw it I would probably give ‘Looper’ a higher rating than the one I give it now. I speak for no one but myself obviously, but with the passage of a few weeks now, this movie didn’t stick with me as much as I thought it might. It is a good character driven movie, but it still relies mostly on a clever (and in this case very clever indeed) gimmick and other smoke and mirrors, which give away its B-Movie status. Still though, as such films go, you could do a whole lot worse than this. If you’re in the mood for a good Sci-Fi flick with a lot of twists and turns, a lot of action, and good solid suspense throughout, Looper is as good a bet as any.