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Looper (2012): ***½

Directed by Rian Johnson

Looper is a time-travel story, and those have a tendency to go a bit pear-shaped. Time travel is a tricky thing (just look at my two articles about it here and here), and it is so easy to get bogged down by rules and get caught up in too many paradoxes, or alternately to get extremely sloppy to the point that everything is rather arbitrary (*cough* Doctor Who *cough*). Looper takes a novel approach to time travel, one I hadn't quite seen before, and as near as I can tell is internally consistent enough. And on top of that it's a good movie.

The premise, quickly: When the mafia in the future wants to kill people, they send them back in time to pre-determined space/time coordinates, where specialized assassins known as "loopers" are waiting for them to appear so they can be killed. Joe is such a looper, and one day the person sent back from the future happens to be an older version of Joe himself, and Joe accidentally lets Old Joe escape. But Old Joe is back in the past with an agenda of his own, and isn't about to let his younger self kill him. There.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when the two Joes are together talking about the rules of time travel and Old Joe finally puts a stop to it by saying, "I don't want to talk about time travel, because if we start talking about it then we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws." So I won't talk about it much either, suffice it to say it is intriguing and surprisingly intuitive, but difficult to accurately explain. You Joe can change Old Joe's past to a certain extent, but he can't change anything that has already happened. As Old Joe puts it to Young Joe, "I remember the things you do after you do them."

There are other some very cool sci-fi touches to the movie. Mafias have taken over or replaced governments and police forces. 10% of the population has developed telekinetic powers. There is a "vagrant problem" of some sorts. Most people drive cars that are about 30 years old, and everything is just generally run-down as if most of human industry has ground to a halt. And there is the hilarious "blunderbuss" weapon the loopers use.

There are fascinating philosophical quandries with being forced to kill your older self, and in fact the movie doesn't shy away from them but embraces them whole-heartedly. Theres an extended sequence where we see how the events that are currently happening happened differently in Old Joe's life. The film wrestles with concepts of destiny, of seeing what you could be capable of (after all, Old Joe is Young Joe... or could be). Does simply knowing your own future automatically change it?

The dual performances of Joseph Gordon Levitt (who is having an absolutely stellar year) and Bruce Willis as You and Old Joe respectively are quite amazing. They really are playing teh same character, and some minor prosthetic work helps JGL blend very well into BW (in another one of my favorite line Joes tells himself, "Your face looks backwards"). And they are ably supported by the supporting cast, including a surprising role for Piper Perabo and a wonderfully nuanced late-addition character played by Garrett "Beastwizard" Dillahunt.

So I really enjoyed Looper. It's thrilling and funny and thoughtful at the same time. It works as a Mafia crime drama, it works as intelligent sci-fi, it works as a character study. Rian Johnson of Brick fame crafts another masterful screenplay that takes familiar tropes like Mafia Movies and Time Travel Movies and weaves a wholly original and engrossing film out of them. I really now want to see his Brothers Bloom to see what he did with Heist Movies.


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