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Along with Time Travel, “Looper” Delivers Twists That Don’t Always Work

October 1, 2012

By John C.

The opening night film of the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Rian Johnson’s much anticipated science fiction epic Looper opened in theatres on Friday.  Because I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to actually see the film during TIFF, it took me until now to realize just how much of an offbeat choice it really was to open the festival.

The year is 2042 and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hit man for the mob who kills people who have been sent back through time.  Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but in the year 2072 it will be, and targets who are wanted dead get sent back for disposal thirty years in the past, with their “hands tied and heads sacked.”  But things get even more complicated and Joe encounters a precarious existential dilemma when he realizes that his latest target is a future version of himself (Bruce Willis).

Taking refuge at a farm with single mother Sara (Emily Blunt) and her mysterious son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), Looper switches gears in the last act in a way that just didn’t really work for me.  The fact that I was left kind of disappointed by this film shocked me more than anyone.  From Back to the Future to Stephen King’s brilliantly plotted novel 11/22/63, I’ve always loved stories about time travel and couldn’t wait to see what the very talented Rian Johnson would do with these themes.  There are things that I like about the film.  Many of the action scenes are undeniably well done, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are both quite good at playing different versions of the same character.

The problems I have with Looper start with the overly explanatory narration that we get during the opening few scenes.  The premise is brilliant, but there is no mystery to the concept of “closing the loop” once we actually get into the film.  The situation of someone being confronted with their future self already happens and resolves itself with another character (Paul Dano) before we even get to the main plot, so the moral dilemma has already been explored before we even get to the resolution of the actual story.  But the film’s biggest flaw are the telekinetic flourishes that keep popping up throughout.  These supernatural elements of the story just feel ridiculously out of place, and completely lost me when they needlessly play into the finale of the film.

Rian Johnson blasted onto the filmmaking scene and first teamed up with Joseph Gordon-Levitt back in 2005 with Brick, a brilliantly written film noir that was inventively set within a high school.  The writer and director delivered another effective blend of styles and genres with The Brothers Bloom in 2009, starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody.  The film was a thrillingly entertaining and ultimately deeply moving look at sibling con men that ranked as one of the very best movies of the year and holds up well to repeat viewings.  No matter what you think about Looper, I would encourage everyone to go back and check out Brick and The Brothers Bloom.

I admire Rian Johnson’s talent as a filmmaker and the overall premise of Looper is intriguing, especially for someone fascinated by time travel.  The lead actors are all good and I respect the fact that a lot of audiences and critics have taken to the film in a big way.  I like parts of Looper, but for me there are just a few too many missteps in the last act for the pieces to all add up to a coherent whole in the end.

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