Movies: ‘Looper’ Thrills

Nothing kills genre films quicker than exposition. When you have to pass out glossaries to the uninitiated or explain the rules over and over again, a story can sputter and die or, at the very least, bore you stupid the second time through. Looper, however, is a wonderfully nimble exception given the size of the learning curve. Every little factoid here, whether casually tossed off, outright explained in narration, or visually suggested pays off organically and the movie is free to spend it's time and things that are a lot more interesting like its characters, how past and future relate to one and another and audience-baiting "would you?" moral questions about whether the end will justify the means.

The Loopers are paid in silver which is a clever Biblical way of signalling the movie's loftier thematic ambitions and moral slipperiness. Joe, who we immediately think of as the hero solely on the virtue of being the protagonist, pulls a Judas early on and this hero thing is really called into question. Once Joe fails to close his own loop — no one Dies Harder in the movies than Bruce Willis — the chase begins and the movie takes off and in surprising directions, too. [No spoilers here — the trailer had the good rare sense to save some of its best moments.]

Looper-fieldsYoung Joe vs. Old Joe, which provides the middle of the movie with much of its action, power and humor keeps asking you to shift allegiances and somehow manages to flatter both older and younger audiences without pandering to either. Soon the plot pieces and moral quandaries grow as high and maze-like as the cornfields young Joe hides in outside the farm of Sara (Emily Blunt) and her boy Cid (Pierce Gagnon).

It helps to have three completely engaging stars to sell material this convoluted. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so unusually slim and mischievous-looking for typical action-hero duties, doesn't lose his star appeal under the makeup; Emily Blunt turns it out both maternally and sensually as the suffering mom / love interest; and finally there's Bruce Willis. He is, as ever, one of the very best movie stars with an underappreciate ability to shift his Bruceness just so to meet the very specific demands of multiple genres and unique filmmakers.

What a surprise Looper turns out to be, both in its scripted novelistic layers, its minimalist visual panache (an extremely smart choice with such a complicated story to deliver — the few big f/x moments to really pop) and its overall accessibility.

Writer/Director Rian Johnson first made a name for himself with Brick, a teen noir that won a small hardcore group of fans but was so in love with its own hipster reflection that it forgot to ever look to the audience that might be watching it and looking for a way inside. Looper's world is, in its own, way is just as sealed off with strange new behavioral codes and verbiage. But this time Rian Johnson is as sure-handed and quick as Joe the looper. He's armed with a blunderbuss and blowing massive holes in each potential obstacle to your entertainment, inviting audiences to come racing in. Which they might once word-of-mouth kicks in. 


Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.


  1. Bob says

    Glad you noticed the JGL makeup effect. When he hosted SNL last week, I kept saying “Get this boy some mascara, so he looks like he has eyelashes” The movie makeup went farther than I would, so he was hard to recognize

  2. gregory brown says

    I went into LOOPER mostly to see JG-L and BW, figuring the story would be of lesser interest. Wow! I was unsure how the thing was going to resolve until the last possible–the very last–and it all worked for me. See this.

    I also liked the future bad guys’ hats.

  3. MJ says

    Sadly, I am just another dewy-eyed pawn willing to great JGL’s total world domination with open arms. Sigh. “Oh my liege… I have baked thee a fresh apple pie. Do what you will with me…”

    So yes I will likely see flic.

  4. Joseph says

    Looper is an absolutely brilliant film, one of the most questioning and spiritual films to come out of Hollywood in a long time, without it being forced. That the ending is also ambiguous is icing. Kudos also to the little boy, Pierce Gagnon, who is truly astounding — he deserves an Oscar nod for Supporting Actor. Yes, he’s that good.

  5. says

    Actually John & Jason, while the film does indeed have people shooting one another, it ultimately says that the mind is the biggest weapon of all and if we keep using violence to destroy one another somebody out there is going to twist it back onto the people and we’re never going to be able to go back. But if you’d seen the movie instead of blindly criticising one of the most acclaimed movies of the year maybe you could have come to your own conclusion.

  6. Garry says

    What a moronic plot, it is easier to break the laws of physics, than to fool the CSI? If this rainmaker is all powerful, why would he care about cops?

    They kill Bruce Willis wife, but they have to send him back? Why give gold at end of career, when another assassin could do it cheap in their time?

    Time travel is by definition invented at all points in the timeline, and endless rehashes of the past follow, or all change has already occurred. Neither senario fits this story.

    Only a good movie if you can switch you brain off. Otherwise enjoy people being shot in a corn field by a cold blooded killer with a 16th century weapon. The emperor has no clothes.

  7. Rrhain says

    @GARRY, you misunderstood a few things:

    1) The CSI bit was handled with regard to the tagging of people. You could kill them just fine but it was next to impossible to do away with the bodies such that they weren’t discovered. As we all know, it’s not enough to simply kill someone. You have to make sure nobody finds the body. Otherwise, it’s just a missing person.

    2) Why would he care? Because eventually the authorities will get involved and it really doesn’t matter how powerful a telekinetic you are. An army will take you down.

    3) Killing Old Joe’s wife was collateral damage. They were there to close the loop on Joe. But by killing his wife, they inspired him to try and stop it.

    4) They give gold at the end so that they have an incentive to get people to become Loopers. The silver they pay is not nothing, but it’s not a great amount, either. As Young Joe said, it doesn’t attract people with too much forethinking skills. They are too interested in the money to realize that eventually, they will have a literal deadline of 30 years.

    Now yeah, why a time traveler can’t go back into the past and invent it there is an unanswered question, but that isn’t the point of the movie. The plot is really nothing more than Oedipus Rex: By knowing his fate, he causes the very thing he is trying to avoid. Rather than doing it with oracles and prophecies, they’re doing it with time travel.

  8. says

    We learn how to contact unknown people. So, traveling is a great teacher too. Faihein, Hiuensang and Marco Pole were the great travelers of the old. Faihein and Hiuentsang traveled from China to India.

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