As anyone who’s been reading these reviews for awhile already knows, I’m a big fan of cerebral sci-fi. There’s not much of it around anymore, given the increasing tendency to “dumb things down” for mass consumption. Accordingly, I’ve been looking forward to “Looper,” Rian Johnson’s dark time-travel adventure, for several months now. Given that it’s currently sporting a 93% feedback rating on RottenTomatoes, I was decidedly optimistic.
The premise is extremely unique: thirty years into the future, when time travel is invented and outlawed, organized criminals will use it to send their victims back into the past. In the past are men with guns – “Loopers” – who execute them and promptly dispose of their bodies (no corpse = no evidence in the future). Eventually, when a Looper’s contract has run its course, the mob sends back the assassin’s future self. If the Looper does as instructed and kills himself, he lives out his remaining thirty years in relative prosperity. If not…the consequences are grisly.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, last seen as John Blake in “The Dark Knight Rises”) is a Looper who encounters an unexpected predicament: his future self (Bruce Willis) fights back and runs away. In the future, older Joe’s wife and unborn child will be killed by a vicious crime lord known as “the Rainmaker” – and older Joe will do anything to prevent that from happening, even if the Rainmaker is still no more than a child himself.
It’s a great setup, and the first act is brilliant. Director Johnson’s urban-grunge aesthetic is beautifully realized, a vision of future noir that never becomes banal. Performances – especially from Gordon-Levitt – are expectedly strong, and the action (though a little lacking in memorable set pieces) is high-octane. What’s more, the flexibility of an R rating allows Johnson to deliver an uncompromising cinematic experience (this film goes to dark places, but this genuinely results in a more compelling product).
That said, “Looper” suffers from several unfortunate flaws that hold it back from top-tier status. Most glaring are the lapses in time-travel logic the film occasionally asks its audience to accept. I recognize that the subject is necessarily paradoxical (and gets confusing almost immediately) but in a critical scene, the film appears to blatantly rejects the rules it’s previously established for itself. (I saw it with a friend, and we discussed it at length afterwards. In order for the climax to make sense, we had to establish several time-travel principles that the movie never itself stipulates. That’s a mark of sloppy writing.)
There’s also a B-plot involving humans born with the “TK” or “telekinetic” gene. This is a completely unnecessary addition that only damages the movie’s credibility. I’m willing to accept time travel as a semi-realistic plot device, even with all its foibles…but throwing mind-magic into the mix starts feeling a little too reminiscent of “Chronicle” and “X-Men.” At no point does the telekinesis element result in any earth-shattering plot developments. It’s either another mark of weak plotting, or some Hollywood executives mandated its inclusion.
As a result of these and other vulnerabilities, the film suffers a marked drop in quality by the end. It never becomes terrible or unwatchable, but more attention to detail in its final act would’ve helped quite a bit.
Worldview elements are subdued at best. There are a few interesting ideas one could pull out of the film – mostly involving causality, predestination, and the like – but there isn’t much discussion regarding the overall ethics at stake. Objectionable content is as follows: high doses of violence (bloody but not extraordinarily so), some brief but unnecessary nudity in a strip-club scene, and fairly pervasive language. It earns its R rating, but I wish it had done so for thematic rather than titillating purposes.
Is it worth watching?
If you’re a fan of dark, cerebral science fiction (like me), “Looper” probably merits viewing…at least on DVD. Even though it aspires to Christopher Nolan levels of inventiveness and falls short of the mark, it’s a well-crafted, intelligent movie that serves as an interesting conversation starter. Just don’t expect “Inception”-caliber brilliance. Less interested viewers probably won’t find it appealing – and that’s perfectly okay.
A highly original, but flawed, mind-bender. Recommended with caveats.
Normalized Score: 4.6