Movie Review: Loopy Looper

Be warned. Looper, the time-travel sci-fi flick set in the near future is just a little bit loopy, but still a worthwhile movie experience nonetheless. It blatantly borrows from several other sci-fi movies, but does not rise to must-see status. I never found myself bored or distracted in the movie, which says something, but at the end of it all, I felt it lacked that special something which elevates the very good to the excellent or even great.

Sci-fi is like any other genre; whether it be historical, romance or even action movies. You have to be able to suspend belief and be drawn into the story. With Looper I found myself questioning plot scenarios at various times. Some aspects of the story just did not make coherent sense. Let me backtrack a little to explain.

In the future of the future (thirty years hence), crime has been greatly reduced, and it is pretty much impossible to get away with murder. So criminals in the future have developed an ingenious plan. When time travel is invented, they send guys they want to kill back to specially assigned killers – loopers . When the unfortunate individual appears at a specified location thirty years earlier, the looper is waiting metres in front of his face with a shotgun, and summarily blows the unwilling time-traveler away. The catch is that when the criminals of the future want to get rid of the looper himself, they send his future self back to be shot by his younger looper self. That’s what is called ‘closing the loop’. That’s pretty much the basis of the plot of Looper.

The story begins with young Joe having a great time raking in the cash in his looper franchise. It’s all money, girls and parties – until someone in the future decides to close his loop. That’s when old Joe (Bruce Willis) suddenly appears before young Joe. Unlike the others sent through the time machine, old Joe is not wearing a hood, so young Joe recognises him. He hesitates, and old Joe is able to get away. Young Joe is then in big trouble. Failing to kill the person sent back through time has dire consequences. The rest of the movie is effectively one big cat and mouse game between old and young Joe, as they try to size each other up, and Young Joe has to try to work out what to do with old Joe – to kill him or not kill his future self?

The older Joe is on a mission. In the future his true love, a Chinese woman he (will) lives with in Shanghai, is killed in the shootout with criminals. Old Joe is about to be sent back to the past to be killed by his younger self… but I won’t give any plot details away.

Old Joe is madly in love with his Chinese girlfriend, and thinks he can change what happens to her in the future by tracking down and snuffing out the child version of The Rainmaker – an evil warlord who is behind much of the crime in the future. The rainmaker, we learn, has considerable telekinetic powers. He can shift things with his very mind. The Rainmaker is merely the most powerful of a new kind of human mutation which renders a small percentage of the human species with psycho-kinetic powers. These people are called TK, and The Rainmaker is the most powerful of them all. If Joe can just kill the child who will become The Rainmaker, then he can stop all the criminals in the future and save his girlfriend…

It’s an interesting though somewhat convoluted plot. However, we have seen a lot of Looper elsewhere. The Terminator movies explored the whole concept of changing the past to change the future (only better), including terminating the kid. The child with telekinesis bit has been done in Stephen King’s Firestarter. The house by the spooky cornfields/sugarcane fields was done in Signs. And trying to stop murders from the future was the central theme of The Minority Report.

In a convincing performance as old Joe, Bruce Willis is his usual steely-eyed and over-serious self. Another memorable acting role in Looper is by a grey-bearded Jeff Daniels, who is the criminal-boss sent back from the future to organise the whole looper deal, and to make sure that the loopers do their job properly. He delivers his own brand of subtly black comedy to the role. Just don’t expect Dumb or Dumber (whichever one he was all those years ago). Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Sara (Emily Blunt) – as the mother of The Rainmaker – are effectively acted too.

Yet for me the most poignant aspect – and acting performance – in Looper is the role of Cid, the young child who will become The Rainmaker, played superbly by Pierce Gagnon. Again , the child of the future psychopath has been done in the Star Wars prequels with Anakin Skywalker. But director Rian Johnson does it a whole lot more convincingly in loopers. Like Anakin, our little Rainmaker is deeply damaged, brooding, angry to the core. But there is no psycho-babble commentary by Yoda telling us that fear leads to anger and then anger leads to the you-know-what side. Close-up camera shots and our child actor do most of the talking in Looper, and it works. In what is one of the most convincing performances by a child acting out sophisticated adult concepts and psychological states, Cid describes in his facial expressions and actions the motivations behind the great evils that he will one day commit, unless…

But you will see what I mean when you watch the movie.

But back to the implausibles. Even a little thinking renders the whole Looper scenario problematic. Why don’t the criminals of the future just send the guy they want to rub out back to the Precambrian era to become dinosaur food? Or better still, to four billion BC when the Earth was a ball of molten rock? Not much chance of him running from that. Other useful destinations come to mind: inside the earth’s core; within an erupting volcano; sailing through the upper stratosphere where the body will explode from lack of air pressure, then the bits and pieces will burn up on re-entry? Or, assuming the time traveler is white Caucasian, what about sending him smack downtown during an anti-western riot in Iran while holding a Bible and with a nice big diamond-studded crucifix ear-ring in his right ear?

Ah yes, the wandering mind. The thing is, in great science fiction – Bladerunner, The Matrix, even The Terminator, you are so absorbed in the movie you don’t waste time thinking about such things. But maybe it’s just me, and I think too much.

Looper has a difficult–to-predict and memorable ending. Perhaps it’s not quite as haunting as the climax of another Bruce Willis film, The Sixth Sense, but it does leave an indelible trace in one’s memory. It brings into question meaning of love and personal sacrifice. It’s a guaranteed conversation starter, that’s for sure. It’s just a pity that these themes weren’t played out more during the prior ninety minutes.

All in all, Looper is a very good – but not great – science fiction movie. It’s engrossing. But don’t think too much. It might spoil the movie for you, or even give you a headache.


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