Cast: Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Old Joe (Bruce Willis), Sara (Emily Blunt), Looper Boss (Jeff Daniels)
Director: Rian Johnson
Theatrical release: 09/28/2012 DVD Date: 12/31/2012
Rating: R Running Time: 119 minutes
Note(s): Original screenplay written by Rian Johnson.
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Review: Time travel films are, almost by definition, hard to follow, putting a lot on the shoulders of the screenwriter to make the incredible parts of the story more credible. And it helps if the viewer buys into the concept ahead of time and not question too much some of the more impossible aspects. Having said that, Looper does a fine job with the time travel story; where it falls apart is the inclusion of a paranormal element. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play the same character, Joe. For the purposes of this review, the former is Young Joe, the latter Old Joe. Crime lords from thirty years in the future send back people to be executed by folks like Young Joe, a looper, who kills them with a single shotgun blast to the chest. Taped to the victim's back is their payment for services rendered in the form of bars of silver. However, on occasion is it necessary to send back the older version of the looper, closing the loop as it were. In this case, payment is in the form of gold bars and the looper has thirty years to enjoy life before they are inevitably killed by their younger self. (Here's one of those questions you just can't ask: Why does the looper have to kill themselves? Why not assign the task to someone else? Allowing them to retire young and rich is the obvious answer, but it really doesn't answer the question.)
A fairly lengthy introduction depicts what happens when a looper fails to close the loop, which also helps set up how changes in the present affect the future, something that's always a little troublesome with time travel stories. Needless to say, it soon comes to pass that Young Joe has to kill Old Joe. It's here that the film lost me a bit. Two paths are initiated, one in which Young Joe kills Old Joe, collects the gold, retires, and lives a reckless lifestyle before meeting the woman of his dreams. On the thirtieth anniversary of him closing the loop, he's sent back where Young Joe doesn't kill Old Joe. I see the need to explain how Young Joe got to be Old Joe, but I thought it was handled a little clumsily. For the rest of the film Young Joe and Old Joe share a common time frame, though are apart through most of it.
I don't think what follows is a spoiler, but will suggest that it might be.
Old Joe knows that he was a target in the future because of a new crime lord's decision to close all the loops, not just selected ones that have become troublesome. When he escapes from Young Joe in the present, he decides that if he kills the young boy who grows up to be the new crime lord in the future, he will be able to continue to live out his life in the future. But for reasons I won't go in to here, Young Joe comes to a different conclusion, that the young boy must live, putting himself in conflict with his future self.
OK, all well and good. Except the storyline decides here to exploit a minor plot point introduced early — that some people have developed basic telekinetic powers — for reasons that aren't quite logical and don't quite (in my opinion) fit into what's happened thus far. This reasonably intelligent, smartly written screenplay suddenly turns rather silly. It all ends in a not unexpected, somewhat conventional manner, but I couldn't get past all the paranormal nonsense that immediately precedes it.
The film has a solid, if grimly drawn, futuristic look to it and the performances are all really quite good. And despite a quibble or two, I did enjoy much of Looper and do recommend it, but I think I might have enjoyed it more had I been better prepared. I was ready, willing and able to accept the time travel element presented but was really dismayed when so much of the film's credibility hinged not on the present/future conundrum but on the (ironically less believable) paranormal activity exhibited by the characters … and one in particular.