Looper (2012)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Looper movie posterShould I see it?
A weak yes.

Director: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels

Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and drug content

Watch or Rent This Movie Here

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives in a world of time travel. Most people in his time don’t know this is the case. Time travel is something that has yet to be invented, this does not stop folks from the future messing with the past however.  Joe fuels a fast lifestyle and drug habit by working as a ‘looper’ for the citizens of the future. Poor saps who upset a criminal organization in the future are sent back to Joe’s time and loopers, such as Joe, gun them down in an efficient execution. This assures the target from the future is removed, without the complications of a body or other evidence. This set up works out neatly for Joe until he is asked to gun down his future self (Bruce Willis). Younger Joe's future self (let's call him Older Joe) escapes his execution and the chase begins. Younger Joe tries to stop Older Joe as he slowly tracks down and kills the ‘modern day’ crime syndicate that will mark him for execution in the future.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson (Brick) has the chops to handle a layered time travel film in an accessible but challenging fashion. For the most part, Johnson delivers. The main portion of his script is often predictable, but still engaging. The Younger Joe/Older Joe juxtaposition is an interesting take – Older Joe is rightly annoyed by his less wise, less respectful younger self. Younger Joe can’t get his head around the relationship and treats Older Joe as more of a disposable father-figure than an older, wiser version of himself.

Johnson’s handling of the complex relationship between the two Joes is unique and full of potential. He begins to deliver on this potential by cleverly displaying how Younger Joe originally kills his older self, goes through his life becoming Older Joe (who knows what is coming) and using that memory of killing himself to keep himself (Older Joe) alive at that point and being able to escape. Sound complicated? It is, yet Johnson found a way to show it and make it completely logical.

Unfortunately, there is a problem and it isn’t a small one.

Looper Movie StillJohnson doesn’t have confidence in his complex time travel tale. He takes what is a carefully constructed future universe and plot and spoils it by inserting a completely unneeded and distracting subplot involving a child with supernatural powers. You read that correctly. Out of nowhere Johnson introduces a child with horrifying psychic powers who is being protected by a woman (Emily Blunt) living in a distant farm house.

The child subplot derails the original tale and turns a sharp genre film into a M. Night Shyamalanesque sham. What should be a complex look at the current/future self – free will vs. fate argument  devolves into a meaningless mess as Johnson is forced to abandon his initial narrative to deal with the loose ends caused by this unrelated addition.

***Spoiler Alert***

The inclusion of the psychic kid brings Younger/Older Joe into a strange place. Older Joe, knows what the future holds. This includes knowing that the psychic kid grows up to be a monstrous crime boss. Johnson attempts to utilize this strange point-of-view to put Older Joe in a horrible situation. Knowing what he knows, is Older Joe right to assassinate the child before he can commit his future crime? This is the classic argument of going back in time and killing Hitler. This is an interesting proposition but it is too large to be hung on a preexisting narrative. It should be its own story instead of being a side-issue. This is evidenced by the lack of dimension in the psychic kid. The child does not retain any discernible personality, he is not really ‘human’. He is a thing, a plot point which needs to be dealt with rather than a likable child the audience can come to understand and therefore want to survive.

Johnson is a very strong director, but has shown with this and his previous film, The Brothers Bloom, that he has loose restraint on his storytelling. He needs a script editor who will reign in his needlessly grand inclinations. If he had remained true to his original narrative, this would have been an exceptional film. Thanks to his lack of focus, he has produced an unfortunately splintered and forgettable movie.

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