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Film Review: Looper

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Film Review: Looper

Postby LOLtron » Fri Sep 28, 2012 3:21 am

Film Review: Looper

Time travel stories don't always have to give you a headache. Sometimes, they're just damn cool.




In Rian Johnson's Looper, a crime boss from the future named Abe (Jeff Daniels) makes a point about the way things "come back around," that is, that everything is recursive and our relationship to the past informs where we go in the future.

He's summing up a theme of the film, but without the deep, nuanced world created by Johnson, it wouldn't mean much.  Working from his own tightly-crafted script, Johnson posits a future world (or two) that looks all too plausible, but all too dramatically compelling.  In Kansas 2044, society, heavily influenced by Chinese emergence, is split between two classes.  The haves and the have-nots.  The haves commit crimes because it makes them richer; the have-nots commit crimes because they need to survive.  It's a harsh world, one that's completely lived-in and fully-realized.  This much is apparent in a first act filled to the brim with ideas: this isn't just any action thriller.  Before long, it's obvious that Looper is a fantastically engaging and often very smart film that is audacious enough to let it's world-building character moments come to the fore and provide a balance for the balls to the wall action setpieces that make a viewing audience cheer in delight.  

In 2074, time-travel technology is outlawed, so of course it rests in the hands of organized crime syndicates, who use it as a weapon against their enemies.  Victims are sent in time back to 2044, where a hitman, known as a "Looper," executes them on the spot and collects the quantity of silver that is sent with them as payment.  Thus, the mob gets rid of its enemies,  and Loopers can live high on the hog, driving souped-up sports cars, taking lots of drugs, and hanging out in brothels.  They are the upper class in society, and all anyone else can do is sit and starve while watching the rich boys have fun.  The Loopers are presented as a type of frat-boy gathering of partying assholes who have fun with their job and the perks it brings them.  Eventually, Loopers are finding their Loops getting "closed," that is, they're killing their own future selves, meaning their contracts are terminated, and they're free to live on however they wish (most of them plan to party it up for their remaining thirty years).  It's intimated that there is a new crime boss in the future, and he's shutting down the Looper program.  One Looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) complacently goes through life until his good buddy Seth (Paul Dano) lets his own future self go, which brings up all kinds of complications (and leads to a bravura chase sequence where a man literally dissolves into nothing while his younger self is tortured and eventually killed).  Ultimately, Joe ends up encountering his older self (Bruce Willis), who is taking it upon himself to change the future.  This encounter opens up the themes of the movie, as not only does the past affect the future, but vice versa as well.  More practically, this is also an opportunity for Johnson to zig when the viewer expects him to zag.  Resisting the urge to write a time-displaced buddy action film, Johnson instead presents a taut character drama, where time-travel gimmickry is thrown in the back seat in favor of a sequence of events that make us wonder about the fate of its protagonists (and antagonists), as well as the society that brings them all together.  

Johnson is nervy enough to allow the themes of the film to reveal themselves gradually and via the characters themselves, rather than by using the time-travel conceit to gimmick up the works.  It's a pretty bold plan, really.  The world the film takes place in becomes the real star here, and works itself through the narrative via a, well, looping, Chekov's Gun-type of structure that sends characters and events out in various directions before having them circle back and meet each other again.  Along the way, expectations are averted (though there are some points, particularly in the relationship Piper Perabo's prostitute character has to the two Joes and their time periods, where the script starts to flirt with Hollywood convention), and firearm-based action setpieces flow like the blood oozing out of a bullet wound.  Somewhere in there, Johnson elicits distinctive performances from his actors.  Daniels leans heavily on his Will McAvoy line delivery, but ends up imbuing his lines with a shaggy, world-weary charm that reveals much about his character.  Emily Blunt ends up having to carry much of the second half of the film as Sara, a single mother living on a farm who has to protect herself and her son from circumstances she never wanted to be in the middle of.  While leaden at parts, her performance is ultimately soulful and effective, and Sara ends up spending more time in the foreground than either of the two highly-hyped stars (who are impressive in how much they're willing to showcase the fact that they are servants to eventuality, and who convey the theme of man's relationship to his world wonderfully).  As to young Cid, played by Pierce Gagnon, he just about steals the film (between this and Beasts of the Southern Wild, it's been a great year for child actors).  

Johnson's screenplay is so well-crafted and realized that the most remarkable thing about it is the fact that everything pays off the way it does.  He introduces a lot of elements, but does so subtly and uses them to shade the background of the film until he needs to bring to the forefront, something he does so deftly that it feels almost effortless.  There is a strange bump in the narrative early in the second act, when a presumed alternate eventuality is exhibited, only to be dropped and never brought up again (this device is not a recurring motif in the film).  Still, he is able to guide the narrative with exceptional character development and narrative purpose, rendering his action sequences even more thrilling.  Johnson lays a lot of pipe here; we're rarely given more information than we ever need, and anything that is brought up has a place to go to for payoff (for example, the subplot about telekinetic powers and how that plays into things).  It brings up ideas of who we are, and how deciding what kind of person we're going to be affects the world around us.  While ostensibly taking inspiration from La Jetee, The Terminator, and 12 Monkeys, Johnson synthesizes an indelibly singular vision, and hopefully provides the blueprint for the way action films are done in the future.  Looper is dense without feeling overstuffed, and always engaging (and engaged).  It's a mature and greatly satifsying work, and it's one of the finer films of the year.  

 



Written or Contributed by Royal Nonesuch




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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Mr. Log » Fri Sep 28, 2012 8:49 am

I was really worried about this one, because it sounds so compelling but those often disappoint. I'll try to check it out this weekend.

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby PDH » Fri Sep 28, 2012 12:40 pm

Really looking forward to this.

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Chris » Fri Sep 28, 2012 6:15 pm

Holy shit, that was everything I expected and more.

This is the best movie I've seen in theaters all year. Avengers is still tops for me overall, but in terms of actual quality, this is amazing. Every aspect of it... writing, acting, directing.. top notch.

Gordo's Willis impersonation is eerily accurate.

Emily Blunt gave one of the strongest performances I've seen from her, and I generally think of her as a strong actress to begin with.

Paul Dano was great in a small role in the beginning.

And the kid.. the kid was ridiculously good for such a young age. Really surprised me.

Willis was just Willis.


I definitely did not expect the story to go the way it did. What follows will be spoilers.

[Reveal] Spoiler: Click to Expand
So pretty crazy ending, huh? Wow. And the silent credits after. Everyone in the theater was kind of just sitting there, in silence, letting it sink in.

But I fucking loved the whole telekinetic aspect of the story. I know they teased it in the trailers, but the way it was done with the kid was excellent.. and the amount of world building Johnson did in such a short amount of time was insane - I would totally watch another movie in this world, following an older Cid or something.

I loved that the "future" aspects of it.. both the "present-future" and the "30 years in the future-future".. were handled with subtlety for the most part. It was a dirty, messy world. And unlike people like, say, the Wachowski's.. Johnson doesn't draw much attention to it. Shit just exists, and it's not fancy, but it works -- or doesn't, in the case of the hoverbike. Things seem to be thrown together from spare parts. People are poor and starving. It's an ugly world. Even the somewhat nicer 2074-future is still gritty and realistic.. if that makes any sense.

Another thing I loved was that for much of the movie you really didn't know who to root for. Bruce Willis just wanted his life back.. his wife safe, and the Rainmaker dead. A future that is better because of his actions -- or the actions he sets out to take in the past. And Gordo starts out just wanting to close his Loop to save his own life, but it then becomes a matter of saving a little kid's life. But that little kid grows up to be the "Rainmaker".. a psycopath who single-handledly takes over "the five syndicates", and we've seen how powerful he is already at just 10 years old. Maybe it's not as cut-and-dry as just saving the kid's life? It really is the whole "baby Hitler" thing, like Dooz said.

It's all messy. But it worked really well.

And what's the deal with Sara? Ex-Looper, right? I mean, they never confirm it... but she knows what Loopers are, and Gordo is surprised by that fact. So Loopers are clearly not a public, and well-known thing here. And she knows what the Blunderbuss is. And she gave her kid up at 22 or whatever, because of her lifestyle... seems pretty obvious. Right? That's another aspect of the world I would love to see more about, like I said above.

But a goddamn great movie.

A+
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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby xshane666x » Fri Sep 28, 2012 11:01 pm

Everyone nailed everything, so rather than be redundant I will just say that the movie is amazing! A+++

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Greg » Sat Sep 29, 2012 3:25 pm

I saw it last night for a second time. First time I was mostly into the first half and felt it dragged a second time. Last night, though, I liked it a LOT more seeing it a second time. Very damn good movie.

Chris wrote:I definitely did not expect the story to go the way it did. What follows will be spoilers.

[Reveal] Spoiler: Click to Expand
So pretty crazy ending, huh? Wow. And the silent credits after. Everyone in the theater was kind of just sitting there, in silence, letting it sink in.

But I fucking loved the whole telekinetic aspect of the story. I know they teased it in the trailers, but the way it was done with the kid was excellent.. and the amount of world building Johnson did in such a short amount of time was insane - I would totally watch another movie in this world, following an older Cid or something.

I loved that the "future" aspects of it.. both the "present-future" and the "30 years in the future-future".. were handled with subtlety for the most part. It was a dirty, messy world. And unlike people like, say, the Wachowski's.. Johnson doesn't draw much attention to it. Shit just exists, and it's not fancy, but it works -- or doesn't, in the case of the hoverbike. Things seem to be thrown together from spare parts. People are poor and starving. It's an ugly world. Even the somewhat nicer 2074-future is still gritty and realistic.. if that makes any sense.

Another thing I loved was that for much of the movie you really didn't know who to root for. Bruce Willis just wanted his life back.. his wife safe, and the Rainmaker dead. A future that is better because of his actions -- or the actions he sets out to take in the past. And Gordo starts out just wanting to close his Loop to save his own life, but it then becomes a matter of saving a little kid's life. But that little kid grows up to be the "Rainmaker".. a psycopath who single-handledly takes over "the five syndicates", and we've seen how powerful he is already at just 10 years old. Maybe it's not as cut-and-dry as just saving the kid's life? It really is the whole "baby Hitler" thing, like Dooz said.

It's all messy. But it worked really well.

And what's the deal with Sara? Ex-Looper, right? I mean, they never confirm it... but she knows what Loopers are, and Gordo is surprised by that fact. So Loopers are clearly not a public, and well-known thing here. And she knows what the Blunderbuss is. And she gave her kid up at 22 or whatever, because of her lifestyle... seems pretty obvious. Right? That's another aspect of the world I would love to see more about, like I said above.

But a goddamn great movie.

A+


[Reveal] Spoiler: Click to Expand
I didn't mind them not explaining it, but I assumed, Sara could have probably been like Joe's love interest, Suzie, in the beginning who was a hooker and revealed to be a mom. Suzie could have known things about Loopers, she worked in the same building that was their headquarters and she also had Kid Blue at her apartment to save her daughter. Given the past Sara was talking about, that could have been the life style she was in.
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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Fenway » Sat Oct 06, 2012 9:34 am

I feel odd to say that I wasn't impressed, or at least as impressed, with this movie as everyone else seems to be. The acting was superb, and it had an thoughtful premise considering nature/nature, but I was too bogged down in the semantics of time travel. Do paradoxes not exist in this universe? The ripple effect was also neat, but doesn't make too much sense either.
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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Greg » Sat Oct 06, 2012 10:14 am

I don't see what didn't make sense. Everything they needed to explain the mechanics was told and it was presented in very simple terms. The time in the film was very fluid and allowed no paradoxes. It was all really one stream.
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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Rockman » Sat Oct 06, 2012 3:43 pm

Rian Johnson on the end

[Reveal] Spoiler: Click to Expand
2) The film surmises Old Joe killing Sarah eventually made Cid become the Rainmaker. But Old Joe can’t become Old Joe without first being killed and letting Young Joe grow up to meet his wife. In that timeline though, Cid would grow up normal because Sarah wasn’t killed by Joe. How does that all work? How does the Rainmaker exist in a timeline where Old Joe didn’t kill his mom?

This is the kinda stuff that 'really fries your brain.' Because they are so interdependently connected, there is no real answer. “For me it’s a trope of time travel movies and there’s a slight amount of magic logic that you have to apply in order for a story like this to make sense,” Johnson said.

If you wanna spend all day making diagrams with straws, feel free. “That’s the Terminator question. If it’s important to you to really justify that beyond ‘It makes sense in a story type way,’ you’ll have to get into multiple time lines existing in neverending loops of logic. You can shoehorn it into making sense.”

Johnson does point out though that there's mention of the Rainmaker having a fake jaw in the future, in the present he is shot by Old Joe, so there are still connections. “That specific thing must have already happened, but he’s still in the timeline where that has yet to happen. Although, in my mind, what happens is cause his memory is shifting to accommodate, that’s one of the things that’s changed in his memory.”


So basically just shut your brain off because that's not the point of the movie.

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby PDH » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:08 am

Fenway wrote:I feel odd to say that I wasn't impressed, or at least as impressed, with this movie as everyone else seems to be. The acting was superb, and it had an thoughtful premise considering nature/nature, but I was too bogged down in the semantics of time travel. Do paradoxes not exist in this universe? The ripple effect was also neat, but doesn't make too much sense either.


Pretty much my reaction. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Greg wrote:I don't see what didn't make sense. Everything they needed to explain the mechanics was told and it was presented in very simple terms. The time in the film was very fluid and allowed no paradoxes. It was all really one stream.


It was full of parodoxes. If he killed himself before he could go back in time and set off the chain of events that led to him killing himself then...he wouldn't have killed himself. It's a classic grandfather paradox. And so it went on. For every single event in the entire movie that involved time travel. They got it completely wrong every time.

Rockman wrote:So basically just shut your brain off because that's not the point of the movie.


Sometimes, I can do that, sometimes I can't. I couldn't tell you what the difference is but this was on the wrong side of the line for me.

For example, I have no problem accepting that time travel exists in this world. I don't want some character to stand around explaining how the time machine works like a character on Star Trek. But it did really bother me that they made such a mess of the time travel aspect. If you chopped someone's finger off in the past, that means that in the whole time between it getting chopped off and you going back in time you would have no finger. It wouldn't suddenly disappear at age 60 or whatever because your younger self just lost a finger. That happened decades ago from your perspective. It would have been missing the whole time.

But regardless of this I also had problems with it from a story point of view. It started off really, really good and then just hit a brick wall after the awesome diner scene. I found it quite tedious after that and I wasn't really interested in the Rainmaker stuff. I know it's unfair to criticise the acting of a child but it did seem particularly bad to me.

I dunno, I didn't hate it. There was a lot of stuff I really appreciated. The tone, characterisation and the whole world that they created were all really well done. Just a lot of things that dragged it down for me.

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Rockman » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:37 am

I agree with you about the time travel stuff PDH

I got into a very long discussion about it elsewhere, and just didn't want to rehash it again, some people liked it other people didn't. From Johnson's perspective the story was more about Young Joe's personal growth than a sci fi story, and in that regards it was a good film.

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby PDH » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:44 am

Rockman wrote:I agree with you about the time travel stuff PDH

I got into a very long discussion about it elsewhere, and just didn't want to rehash it again, some people liked it other people didn't. From Johnson's perspective the story was more about Young Joe's personal growth than a sci fi story, and in that regards it was a good film.


Yeah, I just read what you wrote on OHG and that's basically where I'm coming from.

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Chris » Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:16 pm

Temporal merging hypothesis

This is the opposite of the multiple universes hypothesis, in that each action committed in time travel actually overlaps one reality with another. For instance, if a time traveler were to meet his double from another time, the double would merge with the time traveler, making the traveler a part of the time he is visiting. The same would hold true for events. Two events would merge into the nearest event which does not produce a paradox (a dead grandfather in one universe but not in another would either create a dead grandfather in both universes, but alter the person's heritage so as to allow this, merge both timelines so that the person would fade from all timelines upon return, or produce a mean between life and death such as a coma).

An example of this is seen in the film The One, in which a character travels across time or dimensions, destroying copies of himself to cause them to merge — thus increasing power for the original character. A similar idea is seen in Margaret Peterson Haddix's book series, The Missing, in which any records of original time are kept in tracers, and those traveling back in time can merge with their own tracers.

Another example is the movie Frequency, in which a man who grew up without a father sends information back in time to save his father's life. When the father survives, the son suddenly finds himself with a new set of childhood memories, while still remembering the original.


It's pretty clear that this is the type of time travel that is happening in the movie.
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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby PDH » Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:48 pm

Chris wrote:
It's pretty clear that this is the type of time travel that is happening in the movie.


Even though Johnson explicitly said that it's multiple timelines? (Which wouldn't work, of course. Willis wouldn't die if an alternate Gordo shot himself.)

But let's grant for the sake of argument that you're right. The above makes no sense whatsoever. In fact it's worse than anything that has been said so far. By orders of magnitude.

If the timelines were 'merged together,' so that there were no contradictions then there would be no reason to merge timelines so that there were no contradictions.

This is also clearly not what happened in the film. There was no merged timeline in the film where no paradoxes occurred. There were dozens and dozens of paradoxes. If this was a merged timeline then we would have been left with a timeline where, for example, Bruce Willis never went back in time in the first place. We wouldn't get a timeline where he did go back in time and then mysteriously vanished decades after he died thus removing any reason for his younger self to commit suicide in the first place. Leaving behind a big pile of money that was driven there by someone who never existed and taken from dead people who were never killed. It's gibberish.

I liked this movie but the time travel stuff made no sense.

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Re: Film Review: Looper

Postby Chris » Sun Oct 07, 2012 1:27 pm

Someone else on Screenrant already addressed this better than I could.

The Temporal Merging Hypothesis essentially means that time is linear.

When the hypothesis says that:

“For instance, if a time traveler were to meet his double from another time, the double would merge with the time traveler, making the traveler a part of the time he is visiting.”

What it means is that, both the young Joe and the old Joe share the same physical matter. They are not unique. So by being present in the same time, they are essentially one being. They don’t literally merge and become one person (although that is another version of the same hypothesis) but whatever happens to one happens to the other because they are in fact the same physical matter.

In Looper, when Set is being dismembered his old self immediately shows the results. This is because he shares the same physical matter as young Seth. But he doesn’t show the results until the exact moment young Seth has a limb removed. The “merging” theory is the ONLY theory that can explain this, because once young Seth has his legs removed it now becomes physically impossible for old Seth to have actually run away from young Seth at the assassination. That would be as Doc Brown from Back to the Future suggests a cataclysmic event that would unravel the space time continuum.

So coming back to the idea that Temporal Merging Hypothesis is all about seeing time as Linear, you have to thin of it in more literal terms that “things haven’t happened until they have happened” … So travelling back in time does NOT change the past at all because the new events are a linear extension.

This is why old Joe has his memory change only after young Joe does this. Because things don’t happen until they happen. If the movie was based on any other kind of time travel theory then old Joe’s memory would either never change (he came from a different timeline) or instantly be changed when he goes back in time (there is only one timeline).
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