Movie Review: Looper
A shorter version of this review first appeared on my Letterboxd.
I cannot be expected to have no significant foreknowledge of any film involving Rian Johnson *and* Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Thus I’d read select reviews, seen the trailers, examined the posters and bylines, etc. I was excited, I had a grasp of the basic murder-for-hire-gets-confronted-by-time-traveling-older-self, yet I had no idea the actual plot. That, friends, is good marketing.
About 20 minutes into the film (total guess, as I’ve no clock in my living room and intentionally hide the one on my DVD player) I experienced a few moments of doubt the whole thing would come off making any sense at all. The film pulls a narrative/editing flip which it properly doesn’t exposition, and which takes another five minutes to fit into the flow of the story. The moment it clicks with the rest of the story, we’re given mental downtime via a minor action sequence to sort out what’s happening. Once we sort it out, we’re taken to a diner for answers to philosophical questions and neat dodges to the scientific ones. Looper is not a movie about quantum mechanics, it’s a movie about almost everything else.
It has time travel, of course, but also elements of X-Men, violent Westerns, moral problem tales, antiheroism, two different dystopian projections (2044 and 2074), Not Entirely Obvious Judas, Woman Going Mad From Isolation, and finally the Innocent Prodigy. The only two downsides are Joseph Gordon Levitt’s makeup – which is often evocative of Willis, but occasionally of Herman Munster – and Tracie Thoms as a waitress with only eight seconds of screen time.
Though the volume of content could easily overwhelm any picture, Rian Johnson pulls it off with sheer audacity and thoughtful editing. Each major theme is established before moving on to the next, and the pacing perfectly allows the viewer to process the shifting themes and events as well as characters’ reactions to them.
The ending is obvious and necessary, neatly taking with it most remaining conundrums, as well as the initial accusation from Joe to himself that he’s only “a self-centered asshole.” When Young Joe wipes out his future assholelishness, his redemption and hopefulness are stated, thank heavens, without a bird’s-eye shot of a Christ-figured Joe.
Because it’s not the shots which are in the film which elevate it above typical action fare, its the shots which aren’t: no closeups on Seth’s mangled body when his loop is closed, no lingering shots of Sara and Joe’s consummation, no prolonged fight when Kid Blue shows up on the hoverbike. Its details are like Older Joe’s memory: conveniently clear and fuzzy in all the right places.