REVIEW: 'Looper' - & What Makes a Good Time Travel Movie Possible

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As the great Doctor would say, time travel is a "oh, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey..." sort of thing. That quote can be inserted into just about every conversation about time travel that has ever been discussed. It basically means, "it's all these sorts of things and situations which can overlap but not and still make sense without anyone including the narrator comprehending it. It can be confusing." Most of the time it's an excuse to get away with a story without much, if any, sure footing or premise. I'm about to tell you how Rian Johnson's Looper does more than just redefine a genre, but creates a foundation that anyone can understand.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson is sort of on fire right now. Not literally. That would be terrible. And not only is he metaphorically on fire with just Hollywood mind you... but among the drooling geeky-film followers and bloggers like myself. Let me paint the picture... He's a young guy whose already made two highly ambitious films and executed them beautifully. First was Brick with the "still rising at the time" Joseph Gordon-Levitt on a ultra low budget (still my favorite of all his films), and his first Hollywood-ish all-star film, The Brothers Bloom. Not as strong but still a fun flick. He's proven himself a filmmaker who's passionate about making art in more than just one medium with his unique directorial takes in Breaking Bad and the overly underrated 2010 FX show Terriers (both of which can be sought out on Netflix Instant).

Now admittedly, I sometimes go into a film wanting to review it because I already have a bias towards it. In Looper; you have the handsome (even with the Brucified eyebrows) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels (Newsroom fave), Emily Blunt, and I just basically introduced him already, Bruce "Yippie-kay-yay-Mother-F**kin" Willis. When I first heard about Looper; I was listening to SlashFilm's Official Podcast (/Filmcast's 100th episode) with Rian Johnson as the guest reviewer. He, very subtly delved into what his next film was going to be about and I was immediately hooked. While he ran through some of his favorite types of time travel movies; that kind of familiarity and love for the genre struck a cord with me. There has been so many failed and incoherent takes on time travel that a part of me is always excited to it see on the big screen, but I usually wind up being crushed by the whole experience. Either underwhelmed or absolutely lost... then I devour a king size pack of Reese cups to punish myself (I'm not a huge chocolate fan)... but as of last Friday... my faith was finally restored. The cups can rest easy for now.

Elaborating on the trailer, a "Looper" is basically an assassin (JGL plays "Joe" or the younger "Joe") who kills people delivered to him from the future where time travel not only exists but is also extremely illegal. So the only people that use it are major crime organizations. The sad truth is... a Looper's life or errr... death is decided for them when they sign up. See, the mob doesn't want any trace of a Looper's existence so when they get old... they track them down and send them back in time to be assassinated by their younger, less erectile dysfunction-ed self. This is called "closing a Loop". So all hell breaks loose when the 30 year older Joe (Bruce Willis) chooses not to die and changes history... Die Hard style!

That's not the only thing going on in this flick... there are many references to a crazed villain from Old Joe's future timeline, a whole slew of overlapping flashbacks of what was, what is, what's going to be... and some people have super lame telekinetic abilities (they're coined "TKs"). And yet this is still one of the easier time travel movies I've ever followed.

Johnson hit the nail on the head when it came to developing two rotating and often colliding narratives which muck up the two Joe's timelines without diving into massive amounts of exposition. Everything is carefully calculated enough to feel organic instead of shoehorning plot devices in which is kind of surprising. I say this because every... and I mean every verbal exchange, murder, movement, gesture, time spent on a certain visual, and introduction of a character pays off before the end credits roll. Everything literally loops back and that's where I think the writing especially shines through.

And I think this is the most important bit... this kind of movie has to have that one key element to what makes a good time travel movie possible. There needs to be a presence of, or fear of, consequence. What happens in the past and allowing it to change or not change the future should define the movie in its entirety. Cause and effect needs to be the driving force while developing your main characters in and around it. Some other great cinematic examples that explore this are Timecrimes, Time Bandits, Donnie Darko, Source CodeTwelve Monkeys (also starring Bruce Willis), and The Terminator.

Besides the actual story and character development, Johnson direction is spot on. Being a big fan of one of his episodes on Breaking Bad, like "Fly"... I always feel he's trying to lay his claim stylistically by never overdoing a shot or shooting worthless takes that feel completely out of place. With this cast and the budget... I feel like Looper is a ride which any genre fan or film fanatic can enjoy.

Anyone who loves half action/half dialogue type movies. This movie isn't for just the sci-fi buffs because Looper has a lot to offer acting-wise. I mean, it's not Tarantino but it feels real and relate-able .. I couldn't ask for more. I won't be surprised if it receives a nod or two come Oscar night.

Is this film "theater worthy"?:
Yes! By all means... remember me mentioning the TKs? They kind of play it hardcore later on in the movie and it's well... totally worth it just for those few "holy sh*t, what is happening" moments. Oh and the visuals? "Take my money!"

My final thoughts:
Looper isn't perfect film but to me, it's damn close. Some characters I feel are underplayed, a few moments should have played more of an effect on the main characters, and it takes some serious tonal shifts which could jar other people's perception. I dug that bit but I can understand otherwise. Again... this movie is a fine, polished piece a cinema. One that I can't wait to add to my extensive collection (though it'll still stand out). Everything comes full circle, maybe you'll see that too.

Slamfist Rating: 8 out of 10

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