Weekend Review: Looper

The last time Bruce Willis looped in time, it resulted in a much more thought-provoking film. Nevertheless, Rian Johnson’s time travel/ganster/action movie has much to recommend it. Predictably, SF fans may be less impressed than viewers of the mundane persuasion. I’m not trying to be a speculative snob here; it’s just a statement of fact.

Title: Looper

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Written and directed by Rian Johnson

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe
Bruce Willis as Old Joe
Emily Blunt as Sara
Pierce Gagnon as Cid
Noah Segan as Kid Blue
Jeff Daniels as Abe
Piper Perabo as Suzie
Qing Zu as Mrs Joe
Tracie Thoms as Beatrix
Frank Brenna as Old Seth


In a fairly dismal future (it looks like the sort of near-future imagined by a teen who plays Grand Theft Auto a little too frequently), time travel has been invented, but remains highly illegal, due, presumably, to the danger it presents for entirely unraveling history. Nevertheless, powerful criminal gangs use it to send back people they want killed. Those people then disappear entirely, so the murders cannot be traced. The hired killers who finish the job– “Loopers”– get thirty years following their retirement and then get killed themselves, to close off loose ends.

Future Joe, a changed man, doesn’t want to die. To that end, he outwits his killer, Past Joe, causing significant butterfly effects—especially after Young Joe becomes entwined with the life of a child whose destiny holds great significance for the future.

Also, some people have a mutation that gives them telekinetic powers. The film throws this idea out early on, and then largely leaves it alone. Like the pistol over the mantelpiece in drama, it will be significant later on.

High Point:

The transformation of Gordon-Levitt into Willis and Willis into a very different person than he was works well. We also get a great montage of changing cities and some passable reflection on the effects our choices might have.

Low Point:

Time travel stories always proves a challenge. For one thing, they demand that writers and viewers think, which means that any anomaly or problem area in the premise will become the subject of reflection.

I’ll accept that there’s some soon-to-be-developed, doesn’t-require-the-energy-of-five-galaxies-to-work method of traveling through time, because without it, we have no story. I’ll even accept a future mob that seems to control everything, presides over a world that has gone to hell in a handbasket, and has access to the most illegal technology in its world, but so trembles before the prospect of being linked to killings that it goes to extraordinary lengths to cover them up. Fine.

But they have access to precise time-and-space teleportation. Why not transport victims into space, 200 years ago? Why not materialize them over Vesuvius before it erupts? Why send them back to be dispatched by cut-rate killers who create further problems that must be addressed?

And, when those problems develop, surely they could use their time-travel device to stop the problems in a less messy, impractical manner than we see here.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. The critics went wild in’’97 over My Best Friend’s Wedding because, gosh, the hero ended up with his intended bride, instead of marrying the annoying female lead played by Julia Roberts. Didn’t see that coming, huh? Mainstream audiences were floored in ’99 by The Matrix (a pretty good stand-alone movie, I admit) because, wow, we’re all just brains in vats experiencing a virtual world!

And, apparently, this film is gosh-darn mind-blowing because it uses time travel to examine questions about fate versus free will, individual choice, jonbar points….

Don’t get me wrong. It’s passable entertainment, and the gangster/time-travel combination is original to film. But it will not do the heads of longtime SF fans the way it apparently does mundane critics and audiences.

Effects: 5/6 The film keeps its effects to a minimum, uses them well, and creates its future world without over-relying on CGI.

Production: 6/6

Acting: 5/6 Looper features a strong cast. I regret that Willis and Gordon-Levitt interact so seldom. Building on that relationship would have improved the movie.

Looper also gives us a convincing performance by a child actor.

Some of the minor characters struck me as a little too “Hollywood.”

Story: 5/6 Get past the premise and you have a good story; every element comes into play by the end. It is, however, an uneven story.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 5/6.

In total, Looper receives 33/42.

4 replies on “Weekend Review: Looper”

  1. I liked it – if you try to do time travel rationally, you can’t do it. But more than “a convincing performance”, I though Gagnon stole the show.

    • Time travel is always going to present serious script problems (12 Monkeys and Primer do the best job, movie-wise, IMO), but I thought the premise was fundamentally ridiculous, even if they turned it into something interesting.

      (I also reconsidered “originality” and bumped it up one, since the gangster/time-travel use seems original to film)

  2. I agree it’s silly – if I were going to dispose of bodies that way, I’d kill them before sending them through and send them into a volcano. But Weeping Angels are silly too, and they’re some of the best stories (Don’t Blink was *brilliant*)…

    • Of course…. But there’s a context of reality issue here. Looper tries for a semi-realistic setting, with SF elements. Doctor Who has a much looser, more stylized reality.

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