Looper

Bruce Willis stars in a vivid time-travel thriller.

Time-travel movies almost always make your head hurt. Has there ever been a screenwriter who succeeded in battening down all of the genre’s rampant temporal improbabilities? By now, the most efficient way to finesse this in-built problem is simply to laugh at it. And so in the new Looper, in a scene set in a diner, we have one character saying to another, “I don’t wanna talk about time travel. We’ll be here all day drawing diagrams with straws.” In other words, let’s move right along.

Looper is a very good time-travel movie. Writer-director Rian Johnson has come up with a nifty sci-fi hook, and he keeps as tight a rein as possible on the story’s twisty internal logic. The year is 2044; the place, Kansas City, Kansas—here, a familiar dystopian hellhole. Our protagonist, a young guy named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), tells us in voiceover that time travel hasn’t been invented yet—but that 30 years in the future it has. Thus, the powerful mob of the future, run by a fearsome crime lord called the Rainmaker, is able to send any poor saps who’ve incurred the kingpin’s displeasure back in time to be terminated, their bodies to be disposed of in the past, where future cops can never find them. The men who do these retro rub-outs are called loopers. They wait in rural fields for a victim from the future to materialize in front of them—on schedule, bound, and helpless—and then blow him away with their scatterguns. Joe is a looper. And he knows that 30 years hence, he’ll be handed his own one-way ticket back to now.

Things get complicated very quickly when a newly arrived victim Joe confronts one day turns out to be his older self (played by Bruce Willis). Old Joe is a crafty character with a sad backstory and a determination to alter it by finding the little boy who will grow up to be the Rainmaker and terminating him. Old Joe escapes before Young Joe can blow him away, leaving Young Joe in a serious bind. We have already seen that his avuncular but vicious boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels)—a mobster from the future who runs the looper franchise here in the past—has an extremely gruesome method for dealing with loopers who’ve allowed their future selves to run amok in the movie’s present, possibly disrupting the future in fundamental ways.

At another point in the happily convoluted story, we learn that Young Joe, who began life as an abandoned child and worked his way up to drug-addicted hitman, has dreamed vaguely of going to France; but on the advice of Abe -- who, again, has seen the future—he decamps instead for China, where we watch him maturing, over the course of 30 fast-forward years, into Old Joe. The circle recycles, or whatever.

Eventually, both Joes are drawn toward a remote farm, where a woman named Sara (Emily Blunt) chops wood and tends to her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon, excellent beyond his years), who appears to be about eight years old. Despite the fact that Cid’s name is never written down for us, those who remember the old Charlton Heston movie El Cid may feel inklings of realization dawning about here.

The movie’s time-warp scenario makes enough sense to be a lot of fun; the characters have an emotional depth that’s unusual in this sort of picture; and the action, of which there’s a lot, is often strikingly imaginative. The sequence in which a grim tracker named Jesse (Garret Dillahunt) shows up at Sara’s farm looking for Young Joe is memorably inventive—tense, funny, and explosively bloody, too. And the movie’s mini-apocalyptic conclusion is both unexpected and unexpectedly moving.

Director Johnson makes witty use of Willis, exploiting both his whispery tenderness and his well-known facility for bullet-fueled mayhem. And Blunt, slowly peeling back the layers of Sara’s melancholy life, is a haven of graceful restraint in a world of untethered furies. Unfortunately, Gordon-Levitt is subverted by the movie’s most nagging flaw. In an effort to synch his appearance with that of the Bruce Willis he will one day become, Johnson has stiffened the younger actor’s face with prosthetic enhancements that lend him an oddly frozen look, which is distracting. (I spent the movie’s early innings wondering if he was a robot, or maybe a stroke victim.) This is too bad, but not ruinous. Loopers is still a small classic of the time-travel form—a vivid depiction of a future that no one would want to go back to.

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  • Ted S.||

    he year is 2044; the place, Kansas City, Kansas—here, a familiar dystopian hellhole.

    Isn't it a hellhole in the present? And why does every scifi movie have to be set in a dystopian future?

  • Killazontherun||

    One of the wonderful things about Samuel Delaney's short stories was the running theme of how even in a society of post scarcity people would still find reasons to bitch, moan and split off into tribal identities. I remember on set in a UN driven utopia where Hell's Angels refused to allow UN contractors to lay down lines for an unlimited and free supply of energy out of identity and principle.

    Collected in Driftglass, I highly recommend it.

  • Brandybuck||

    How about a dystopian past, where the protagonist wins and ends up shifting the timeline to our present humdrum reality?

  • mr simple||

    Old Joe escapes before Young Joe can blow him away, leaving Young Joe in a serious bind.

    That does sound serious.

  • Translucent Chum||

    I'm looking forward to this one. Does this along with Twelve Monkeys make Bruce Willis the king of time travel movies?

  • Loki||

    Nope. Michael J. Fox is still the king of time travel movies. Back to the Future, FTW.

  • The Hammer||

    He's still the king of Christmas cop movies. And Milla Jovovich movies.

  • robc||

    Ive said it on here before, but I shall repeat.

    Leeloo Dallas Multipass is the hottest sci-fi movie chick of all time.

    Barbarella, Slave Leia, yeah, those are good, but not at Leeloo's level.

  • RPR2||

    Suderman review in 3, 2, 1 ...

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    lulz

    It's true because it's funny!

  • Fluffy||

    Here's one thing I don't understand:

    Why are the hit men's future selves sent back in time to be killed?

    I don't understand what benefit the Rainmaker gains from doing this.

    In fact, it seems like an absurd risk to run. It takes people involved in your plot and gives them the best possible incentive to turn against you, and then it transports them to a time where they are best able to fuck you up.

    Aren't you safer by keeping these guys with you in the future and just, you know, treating them really well? Because they're murderers. Why are they going to turn on you?

  • Brett L||

    Or calling the cops on them. They're fucking criminals.

  • Proprietist||

    Or send them forward into the future until long after you are dead.

  • Carston||

    Because its more effective and efficient to hide the body in the past rather than underground or at the bottom of a river.

  • R C Dean||

    Hopefully, this is well enough executed to get me past my problem with the premise.

    Time travel, possibly a discovery on par with the wheel and fire, is discovered, and all its used for is disposal of bodies by the mob? Really?

    Even if the mob somehow had it and kept it secret, they wouldn't send back, oh, I dunno, stock picks? News on how history went? So they could be freakin' trillionaires?

  • Fluffy||

    That's the least of the problems I have with it.

    The problem with time travel for really significant things is the Butterfly effect.

    Using time travel effectively for waste disposal is clever because it gives the villains a compelling use for the technology that won't actually destroy their timeline.

    It's sending people back in time alive that I don't get. Or sending the hit men themselves back that I don't get. That's rolling dice on total fucking destruction every time you do it.

  • Tim||

    Because if warp drive were invented the only use would be the Mob sending hitmen to Andromeda.

  • Fluffy||

    If warp drive were a potential doomsday device that had been outlawed, it's pretty likely its only non-CIA users would be large criminal organizations, yeah.

    Or the Catholic Church.

  • R C Dean||

    OK, time travel is an illegal doomsday device that only the mob is willing to use.

    And this is what they use it for? Fuck, we still haven't found Jimmy Hoffa's body. Why on earth would they use time travel to do something that they do perfectly well now.

  • Fluffy||

    Supposedly there's some reason why bodies can't be hidden in the future. Everyone's tracked or something.

  • Loki||

    "Now, this space ship will be able to travel through a wormhole and deliver the message and guh-glory of Jesus Christ to those godless aliens. S-send your money now. Amen."

  • fish||

    Why thirty years? I probably won't see this one....but I might have had the mob sent hitmen back in time to be eaten by dinosaurs!

  • robc||

    The problem with time travel for really significant things is the Butterfly effect.

    I dont see that as a problem. If time travel exists, then any changes in the past have already happened, so its already balanced out.

    Or, to put it another way, you cant create a paradox. Or it would undo itself.

  • Brandybuck||

    Not having any time travel to begin with, how the hell do we even know there would even be a butterfy effect at all? What if causality is like a river, tossing a pebble into the river won't make it veer off course. Even if the multiple universes hypothesis turns out to be correct, it is not a given that each universe will be radically different from the rest.

    Sometimes a dead butterfly is just a dead butterfly.

  • toolkien||

    That's why I assume that if backward time travel has ever been invented, it has gone through all the possible cycles to reach the only stable prime reality in which is hasn't been invented - this one.

  • robc||

    Im assuming they dont know that its a hit man they are sending back. From the description above, Im guessing he got himself intentionally in a situation to be sent back, in order to work his plan.

  • Scotticus Finch||

    It's hard for me to enjoy anything that involves time travel in any "serious" way*. Far too many artificial limits on how it would be used.

    *This qualifier allows for an enthusiastic exception for Back to the Future, of course.

  • Zeb||

    Have you seen Primer? I think it is the best treatment of time travel that I have seen. The limits put on time travel in the movie are well explained and don't seem arbitrary.
    It is also one of the most confusing and difficult to understand movies I have seen.

  • Brandybuck||

    Very good movie, but if you look at a graph of the time travel, you'll see they left out a huge chunk of the event sequence. The movie ends up confusing in the same way a mystery novel would be if the last three penultimate chapters were torn out.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, they did seem to kind of rush through the end.

    I read an interview with the guy who made it and he said that they did that somewhat deliberately, so that the viewer would be as confused about events as the characters in the story.

  • Tim||

    Is there a feisty Latina?

  • Killazontherun||

    I'll definitely see this one, but I hate time traveler themes. There is no reason to stretch my head to sort out all the mistakes and anomalies for a novel, any novel. I try to enjoy myself while reading fiction. And balance my reading between fiction and non about evenly.

  • Killazontherun||

    Deleted a sentence after the first. I wont put up with the theme in novels, though.

  • Jumbie||

    The year is 2044; the place, Kansas City, Kansas

    So in the future, Kansas annexes Missouri?

    Bruce Willis stars in a vivid time-travel thriller.

    It's sad to see how far Willis's career has fallen, to the point where he's doing porn, but at least it's sci-fi porn and Vivid Entertainment is one of the more respectable production houses.

  • Zeb||

    There are two Kansas Cities.

  • Jumbie||

    Two Kansas Cities?

    God damn you, America. Is it not enough that you have two Portlands and two Washingtons and a Springfield along every interstate?

    It's like you don't like us foreigners or something.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Why not just send them back in time six months? They'll arrive in deep space, with the earth millions of miles away on the far side of its solar orbit.

  • Zeb||

    That assumes that there is any such thing as absolute location in space. But that is an interesting problem that I have never really seen addressed in time travel fiction.

  • sarcasmic||

    Six months? Why not six seconds? Leave them thousands of feet in the air or below ground. Dead either way.

  • Ballz||

    why not calculate the exact location of Obama's toilet 12 months back? boom! he's got his head up Obama's ass!

  • robc||

  • NotSure||

    One would think that a mob boss could put a time machine to better use rather using it to simply dump bodies into the past.

  • ||

    Rather than a rural field, why not 3,000 feet beneath the surface of the Pacific?

    I'm assuming the reason you wouldn't put your time machine in a newly dug cave is that the new victims would materialize inside the old ones. Yuck.

  • TheSpiteHouse||

    I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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