Looper

I saw Looper yesterday. It was quite good.

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I say “quite good” because critics have gone apeshit over it, and I’m starting to wonder if I saw the same film. Angela Watercutter’s Wired review opines

“There are the moments where Looper truly excels at simultaneously being a sci-fi film, an action movie, and a thought-provoking drama”.

Peter Bradshaw calls it “very exciting and very confusing at the same time”. Henry Barnes calls it a “sharp, smart sci-fi thriller”. Total Film calls it “This Decades’ The Matrix“.

Philip French’s praise is faintly damning, ending with

“It’s one of those pictures that courts the adjective “thoughtful” but doesn’t stand up to much thinking about.”

For a spoiler free yet balanced view of the film, read this review: it pretty much sums up everthing I like and dislike.

Here’s what you can find out from the trailers: in the future time travel is illegal and used by organised crime to dispose of bodies by sending them back in time where they’re executed by a waiting assassin. Some times the older version of the assassin is sent back to be killed by himself. This is called “closing the loop”. Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to kill old Joe (Bruce Willis) when he’s sent back. Plot ensues.

The premise is fantastic, the direction is very good and there are a couple of scenes that are truly inspired; but I wouldn’t give it an unreserved recommendation. On the other hand it’s worth watching if only to debate on what standards it should be accountable to.

Now for some spoilers

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p>Wattercutter opens her review with “Here’s the problem with most time-travel movies: They’re about time travel.” She goes on to say “so many time-travel stories have been told that it’s hard to make a new one”.

The problem with Looper is that it promises to be a time-travel story. Its whole setup is worthy of Philip K Dick; yet when it’s approaches the really hard questions about determinism, causality and multiple timelines, it flinches. We’re told early on that every minute Old Joe runs around in the past is “bad” (as in paradox-bad), but there are no obvious consequences to anyone other than the victims of his murder spree. Early on the mob take great pains not to kill Seth for his transgression, implying that to do so would be “dangerous”; yet when Young Joe kills himself at the end of the film, there are no obvious consequences.

We know there are (at least) two timelines; they never come into conflict, simply existing as two “possible futures”; nevertheless Old Joe is certain that his future is the one that will come to pass, even after admitting that the time-travel is making his memories unreliable.

The biggest issue is The Rainmaker, who in the future has supposedly taken over all organised crime single handed, and is closing everyone’s loops. But at the end we learn that The Rainmaker is a ten year old boy with monstrous telekinetic powers. Suddenly the film is not about time-travel, it’s about psionics. I don’t mind being surprised like this but it draws a great deal of attention away from what little time travel plot there is, and mostly robs the viewer of the needed confrontation between Old and Young Joe. Not to mention the fact that the Rainmaker as a threat to looping isn’t very credible; he’s a blunt instrument. Throughout the film the Rainmaker is touted as a mastermind with a definite purpose to closing loops, but at the end that premise is all but abandoned.

Overall the film promises big and fails to deliver; halfway through the pace slows to a crawl, only to pick up in one of the incongruous scenes of violence.

For a deeper, equally spoilerific analysis of the ending, go here.

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