Looper opens today, but my friend Mary and I went to see it on Wednesday. I mention the time and the company because, when the movie was over, I asked her if she liked it. Her response was, “I’m not sure. I have to think about it.” I felt the same way, which is why it took me two days to write about it, and I’m still not sure I have anything useful to say.
The story itself is — if you’re comfortable with science fiction time travel — relatively straightforward, especially since lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt narrates it to us in omniscient point of view. Joe (both the actor’s and character’s name) is a Mob hitman. Except in the future, time travel exists, only it’s illegal, so only the Mob uses it. But although they can send people back in time (a one-way trip, it seems), they can’t dispose of bodies, so they have these guys in their past (our future — the movie is set in 2042, while the Mob runs 2072) kill the travelers and get rid of the corpses. When Joe is sent his future self (Bruce Willis) as a victim, then things get complicated.
The film is a sci-fi action flick that puts its emphasis on murdering and not getting murdered. The time travel stuff gives the more cerebral viewer something to think about, but (as happens with any action movie starring Bruce Willis) during one significant, bloody sequence, I did find myself thinking “Die Hard in the future”. If I was going to pick a Willis movie to watch again, it would be Red or even Surrogates, both of which provide more of a balance between action and plot. Looper was more violent than I expected (which, yes, is a stupid thing to say about an assassination movie).
Where Looper stands out for me is the setting. Their 2042 does have enough futuristic touches to make it clear that this isn’t just today with a bit more dirt and neon. (Which always makes me think the filmmakers were too cheap to commit to an SF film. That’s not the case here.) It’s SF with a heavy layer of noir, symbolized by the ties Joe wears (and gets teased for). There’s also a fantasy aspect to one of the key plot twists, which I shan’t spoil but many viewers will see coming early.
The prosthetics and makeup used to make Gordon-Levitt resemble Willis are impressive and effective but sometimes distracting. Occasionally, he more resembles Keanu Reeves. I also wondered, every time someone touched Gordon-Levitt’s hair (a minor plot point), if there was meant to be some kind of dark joke or irony there, given Willis’ famous baldness. That wasn’t intentional on the filmmakers’ part, I’m sure, but it did kick me briefly out of the filmic world.
There is one point where I’m not sure whether I saw an alternate future or a time loop changing the past, but I don’t care enough to see it again and figure it out. Especially since there’s another scene that is so horrific in its punishment concept that it gave me nightmares, and I still can’t shake it. If I’d known it was in there, I wouldn’t have seen the movie. There are a few laughs to release the tension — watch for Jeff Daniels’ line about China, which went over big with the audience, even if his character is underdeveloped and carries unanswered questions — and they’re much needed. I was sore when I got home from unconsciously tensing my muscles while watching.
As one might expect, Looper does not pass the Bechdel test. There are a couple of significant female characters — Emily Blunt is most prominent, as a farm woman with a young son, but Piper Perabo and Summer Qing are love interests as well, if minimally sketched and based on cliches — but none of them talk to each other. It’s very much Gordon-Levitt’s movie, and his performance is outstanding. Watch Looper with friends who want to spent a couple hours after debating and discussing.