'Looper' Reels You In
Does anyone really even want to get to the future at this point?
Cinema is making an increasingly pessimistic case for the future, where the only “improvements” might be cooler cell phones and jet-propelled flying vehicles. But those probably won’t even start, as the cynics of the Looper world will tell you, kicking at their hoverbikes with sullen, jaded looks on their prosthetic-enhanced faces.
OK, so that’s really just Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and “enhanced” is quite an understatement. Gordon-Levitt's face was drastically altered to make him appear more like Bruce Willis, who plays an older version of Gordon-Levitt's character. That’s why, going into the film, I was worried that the makeup would be a distraction the whole time because it’s so affected.
But of course, Gordon-Levitt pulls out another fine acting job to make you forget about it, except in the time you'll spend marveling at his uncanny Willis-ian gestures and shrugs. This is the second time Rian Johnson has directed Gordon-Levitt, the first being 2005’s Brick, the I-can’t-believe-this-is-so-good-and-it-actually-works noir mystery about a modern-day high school kid trying to solve a murder like an old-day Sam Spade. Once again, Johnson and Gordon-Levitt make it look as easy as pie.
They make the moral ambiguity look even easier, or at least that’s what this world wants you to pretend. In the year 2044, hit men called “loopers” spend their days waiting in remote locations for masked, gagged ne’er-do-wells of the future to pop out of thin air. And then they shoot them—immediately. For Gordon-Levitt’s looper, Joe, this is everyday work and routine—boring, even. Some vague mob association of the future sends these baddies back, and Joe kills and disposes of the bodies. Bodies that don’t exist, mind you.
Getting into the time travel and future paradoxes of the Looper world would probably do more harm than good, and, to paraphrase Willis’ Future Joe, we don’t have time for that. Suffice to say: that is what happens. And sometimes, the person who gets sent back to be killed is the assassin himself. It’s twisted, but ultimately accepted by the loopers as their retirement. They call this “closing the loop.”
But when Joe faces this task himself (literally!), he fails, letting his future self get away. Future Joe is determined to find and kill “the Rainmaker” from his time period, a bloodlusting gangster type who seems to want all the loopers dead. However, the Rainmaker is only a child in Present Joe’s time, and there are three possible targets.
Now the movie turns into a chase, as Future Joe goes on the hunt, and Present Joe meets up with a single mother on a farm whose child may or may not be the Rainmaker too. Still with me? Every few minutes the violence escalates with some new shenanigan (if you have Bruce Willis in a movie, you have to let him shine), but there are also a surprising number of thought-provoking, philosophical conundrums thrown into the mix.
Most obviously: Would you murder a child if you knew that child would grow up to do some very bad things, like murder hundreds of people? Is a person’s fate fixed? Or, can something as simple yet profound as love and care transform a person’s future and change their destiny? Nature vs. nurture rears its ugly, circular-routed head.
Looper won’t give you an answer, not a fixed one, anyway, and this and its ending frustrated me and kept me from being ultimately satisfied in an otherwise highly entertaining, striking film. As with so many movies of this nature (cough, Inception), the film wants you to seek your own conclusion (albeit, while still pushing you a little more one way than the other). But it would have been nice to see a director make a decision and stick by it. But for pure Terminator and Blade Runner (yeah, I said it) thrills and visual kicks, this blunderbuss is for you.