What Goes Around, by Sarah Brinks
Time travel is hard. There, we got that out of the way. However, Rian Johnson’s newest film Looper handles the time travel elements of its plot quite well. It does a nice of being smart and challenging while not being impenetrable. Looper falls somewhere between Primer and Timecrimes on my imaginary “good time travel movie” scale.
The basic plot of the film is that in the year 2044 men called ‘loopers’ kill people sent back in time from 30 years in the future when time travel is a reality. The loopers work for a crime syndicate and they accept that in 30 years they will have their “loop closed” meaning they kill their future selves and get a big payout to enjoy for the next 30 years. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe; a looper who is good at his job. Bruce Willis plays Old Joe who is sent back in time to have his loop closed. The trailer shows you that Bruce Willis is sent back and gets away from young Joe so his loop is still open. It is impossible to go much further into the plot without spoiling anything or getting too confusing.
Looper handles the paradoxical elements of time travel quite competently. I am not a theoretical physicist and was more then confused by Primer, but there is just enough dialog and exposition to give you a handle on it and keep you from over thinking it. The idea that each choice that we make in our lives can lead to an infinite number of futures is touched upon, along with the concept that our past dictates our future. One of my favorite things about Looper is that when the inevitable “Doc Brown gets out his white board and tells you how time travel works” moment comes they acknowledge it and refuse to succumb. It asks you to keep up but give you enough information to piece together the rules of the world yourself.
One element of the film that I found distracting was the make up effects done on Gordon-Levitt to make him look more like Willis. It is subtle and will likely not bother most people who see the film. I am an admitted fan of Gordon-Levitt and am familiar enough with his face to find it a constant source of irritation throughout the film. That being said I do appreciate that the effects were subtle and didn’t limit Gordon-Levitt’s performance. I also appreciate that steps were taken to make Gordon-Levitt and Willis look as similar as possible. It also eliminated the irritation I often have with composite shots of one actor playing multiple roles in a single shot. There is a great scene between Gordon-Levitt and Willis in a diner when they sit down and talk for the first time, it is a profile shot of the two of them on either side of a booth and it is very convincing that they are the same man at different ages.
The casting in the film is a great asset. Gordon-Levitt and Willis are both very good especially when they are on screen together. Jeff Daniels plays the local mob boss Abe. He is calm and smart mouthed but also projects a cool power that a man from the future sent to the past might believably have. Paul Dano plays Seth, another looper and Joe’s best friend. Dano is once again cast as the screw up with too much confidence. However in his short time in the film he plays an important role and helps give a lot of information about the loopers and the consequences for doing a bad job. Emily Blunt plays Sara, a farm girl and mom with a tough attitude. Blunt does a nice job handling an American accent and also is believable as a hard working mom. The real stand out of the film though is little boy named Pierce Gagnon. Gagnon plays Sara’s son Cid. He is the cutest little boy with eyes that could melt your heart. Beyond his adorable exterior he is a powerful actor. He brings a surprising amount of heft and believability to his scenes. Johnson has some pretty big asks from a ten year old actor and Gagnon delivers.
This is director Rian Johnson’s third feature film. His freshman film Brick is a favorite among many cinephiles. His second film The Brothers Bloom was not as widely admired but is a film with a lot of merit and I think is under appreciated. Looper is another home run in my opinion. Johnson challenges himself by not sticking to a single genre. Looper is a smart science fiction film that has the same sense of calculated control that Johnson’s other films have while still feeling fresh. Looper however has a slightly different feel from his other films. It is a difficult thing to put into words, but I think Looper has a gravitas to it that his previous films didn’t have. It still has a sense of humor that make Johnson’s films enjoyable and rewatchable, he knows how and when to break the tension in a scene and how to keep an audience engaged and interested.
Looper is not a perfect film. It is rated R and has quite a bit of violence in it. The violence at times is a little cartoony. Looper is Johnson’s first film with a lot of violent action in it and it just doesn’t always come off as believable. Also there are some futuristic elements that are not handled very well. There are “flying motorcycles” that are never once believable in the film. Not only is the physics of them completely ridiculous but they just always look silly. Near the end there is an action scene that involves one of these motorcycles and it honestly looks cheap and poorly executed.
While there are future elements that do not work the world building in Looper is very good. The world looks dirty and lived in and like a fast forwarded version of the present. Some things are only subtly different like cars have small solar panels on them and drugs are in eye drop form, others are vastly different like the looper guns and the aforementioned flying cars. You can tell that a lot of thought was put into the production design.
Looper is a very well made film with great performances and visual spectacle. For anyone who has enjoyed Johnson’s films in the past give Looper a try and you won’t be disappointed. If you like time travel films, Looper is a welcome addition with some new and interesting thoughts to add to the genre. However, Looper is challenging and won’t be for everyone. If you are looking for a film you can just kick back and not engage your brain while watching Looper is not for you… yes, I’m talking to you, couple next to me who had to explain it to each other between every scene!