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Looper (Blu-ray Review)

16 Jan, 2013 By: John Latchem

Sony Pictures
Box Office $66.49 million
$30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo.

The best sci-fi scripts use their premise to hang an exploration of some aspect of the human condition through the lens of a hypothetical situation that would never happen. Time travel is a popular device for this kind of fiction because of the various philosophical quandaries it can impose. Plus it lets the writer create stories that can get weird in a hurry. And make no mistake, Looper is a movie that gets very weird.

Like most time-travel movies, Looper maintains interest in the moment, and then completely falls apart if you try thinking about it for any length of time once the credits roll. But, like many time-travel stories, the point is not how logically everything fits together. Looper is a consideration of whether a man is bound by an immutable future, or if he has the power to change his fate if he so chooses.

Looper begins by informing the audience that it takes place in Kansas in 2044, and then starts piling on the plot devices. After a widespread economic collapse, the illegal invention of time travel allows gangsters to rid themselves of their enemies by sending them 30 years into the past, where hitmen known as loopers execute them and dispose of the bodies, which are untraceable. To cover their tracks, eventually the gangsters send the future versions of the loopers back to be killed by their younger selves, thus “closing the loop” and giving the youngsters an easy 30 years of retirement before their future catches up with them.

And so once all this is explained to us, we get to the scene where a looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has to kill his older self (Bruce Willis), who promptly escapes. And since the gangsters can’t have fugitives from the future running around, they send their own agents to capture the young Joe so hey can control the old one.

But old Joe has an agenda to avenge the death of his future wife by taking out the younger version of a future villain who unleashes a reign of terror on the world, and it’s here the movie adapts that old notion of what you would do if you could go back in time to kill Hitler when he was a kid. Is it ethical to punish a child for the guilt of his future crimes?

So Looper becomes a kind of inverted Terminator, with old Joe trying to kill the future tyrant and young Joe vowing to protect him and his mom (Emily Blunt). The wrinkle is that young Joe isn’t so much interested in the kid (at first) as he is using him as bait so he can kill his older self, which he thinks will clear his name with the mob.

The set-up turns out to be so bizarre that the only way the story arcs work at all is to twist the plot around with an increasing series of contrivances, the complexity of which seems designed to obscure how illogical everything is.

See, time travel alone isn’t enough of a gimmick for Looper, which rests much of its finale on a plot point that 10% of people in the future have a mutation that gives them rudimentary telekinesis.

And then the paradoxes start piling up, as Looper establishes, a la Back to the Future rules, that its timeline isn’t set in stone, unlike Willis’ other time-travel movie, 12 Monkeys, in which the timeline was a closed circuit that allowed the future to influence the past without changing anything.

Looper’s depiction of the way characters can alter the timeline (the ripple effect, as Doc Brown would call it) bears some similarity to Frequency in the way things change before our eyes. In one well-orchestrated scene, mobsters trying to track down a man from the future torture his younger self, first by scaring his body with a message of where to go, and then cutting off his body parts, which start fading away from the older version. In another twist, the old Joe’s memories start changing as the timeline shifts.

And then there’s the implication that one of the paradoxes is required for the original timeline to work, which is itself a paradox.

Does any of this make any sense? Nope.

The enjoyment of the film seems directly tied to the viewer’s ability to grasp complex metaphysics. Those too smart for their own good will instantly pick it apart, while those who don’t think too hard about it are going to enjoy it more. But since time travel stories tend to appeal more to the geek crowd, the film’s primary audience will be the ones most inclined to pick it apart. So it’s best not to think too hard about it or you’ll risk going cross-eyed.

One of the best aspects of Looper is the way it doesn’t treat itself like a sci-fi movie. Writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick) shot Looper so conventionally that at times it seems like an indie. The sci-fi stuff is understated and the film tries to steer our attention away from it, to the point where the second half takes place on a farm in the middle of nowhere. And yet it’s so layered with details it may take several viewings to put everything together.

Willis and Gordon-Levitt are both excellent playing different versions of the same character, aided by some great prosthetics work to adjust the younger actor’s face into a passable resemblance of his older counterpart.

The Blu-ray includes 36 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, some of which further expound the film’s own rules of time travel. “The Science of Time Travel” featurette intercuts a physicist’s discussions about temporal theory with cast and crew ruminations about how time travel would work, resulting in an interesting but rudimentary exploration of the topic. Other featurettes focus on the making of the film and the music. Anime fans will get a kick out of the trippy Looper animated trailer.

The commentary with Johnson, Gordon-Levitt and Blunt takes good advantage of social media to answer some questions from the film via Twitter. Unfortunately, they spend most of the time discussing the performances and technical aspects of making the film, rather than discussing the major themes it wants to explore.

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