CB'S POV: Circular Logic (“Looper”)

Whenever I hear that a movie is “mind-bending!” or some such hype, I am always amazed at how apparently easy it is to bend some people’s minds. Sometimes this is due to the “challenging” nature of the material, but is it challenging because it is well-done or challenging because it’s not?

The new movie Looper is the latest “mind-trip!” and is compared to Inception in several reviews. It’s not really in Inception’s class but that is not to say its accolades are underserved. It is very good, but there are two major nits I had to pick with it. One is a spoiler so we won’t discuss that one but the other one we shall.

The year is 2074 and a way to travel in time has been discovered, and prohibited because of the inherent dangers. But the Mob has control of the technology (This is not your standard Mafia/Yakuza/drug cartel Mob; this is the Mob on the level of Exxon-Mobile, Microsoft or Wal-Mart.)  and uses it as a novel means of disposing of its “problems.” People they want to get rid of are sent back 30 years, to a cornfield in 2044 Kansas. They materialize (conveniently in a kneeling position), bags over their heads and are immediately shot by hired guns called “Loopers.” The Loopers collect their fee—bars of silver strapped to the anonymous victim’s bodies—and then they incinerate the bodies and spend their loot partying with their fellow Loopers. They continue this until their final assignment, when their “loop” is closed: they receive a final payment, this time in gold, because this victim is the shooter himself (there are no female Loopers), from 30 years in the future.

Joe is a veteran Looper, recruited at an early age and a bit more philosophical than his brothers-in-arms. But when his loop is closed, Old Joe, his future self, escapes (because he knows what’s coming). This is a bad thing so now all the other Loopers are looking for him—and Young Joe, who is also looking for Old Joe.

But Old Joe is on a mission. When they came for him they killed his wife and to prevent that, Old Joe is going to kill “the Rainmaker,” the crime lord of mythic proportions thirty years hence who is “closing all the loops.”

You can make an interesting movie about time travel by simply avoiding (or tweaking) the usual clichés/paradoxes and Looper has inventive fun with both. It also examines the deep existential questions—is the person you are “happy” with the one you were/will become? Whose life is it anyway, yours or your three decades from now? Both Joes want the same thing, their lives back, but for different reasons (selfish vs. altruistic), but are they really the same? Production-wise, 2044 is both familiar and strange, easily recognizable but more stratified. (Well, less, really, just “Haves” and “Ain’t Got Jack.”) But the real delight is the “dual” performances of Bruce Willis (Old Joe) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Young Joe). Old Joe is still the expected Bruce Willis bad-ass, but there’s desperation rather than swagger fueling his behavior. And unlike all those other BA characters, this one shows remorse for his actions (some of them, anyway). As for Young Joe, like Josh Brolin in MIB3, Gordon-Levitt has to play a younger version of a character not only in the same movie, but on the screen with him. He does the neat (and brilliant) job of not trying to channel “Bruce Willis” but by nailing Bruce Willis’ portrayal of his John McClaine from the Die Hard movies. He mimics the facial expressions, body language, line delivery so well you wouldn’t be surprised (and are half-expecting) to hear him say, “Yippee ki‑yay mother-----“ before he shoots someone. The acting is uniformly outstanding, there are some neat low-tech special effects, but all the razzle-dazzle glosses over a couple of important questions:

If you know your last assignment is to kill yourself… Why do none of the Loopers question this? Why is (Old) Joe the first one to figure out a way to prevent it? And from a filmmaking point of view, wouldn’t this reveal have been more of a “gotcha” than it is, so casually presented?

But the bigger question is… Isn’t the world posited by Looper sort of an overly-complicated solution to a simple problem? You drop someone in a cornfield, shoot them, then you burn the body—do you need to send them into the past just to do that? Isn’t it kind of a waste of resources? It’s like the Mob having sole access to the Large Hadron Collider and all they use it for is generating enough electricity to power a string of Christmas lights.

There is another question but it’s a spoiler in both senses of the word—and a couple of things that, while handled very tastefully, are very disturbing.  Looper is a very good movie, but these small things keep it from being “great.”

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