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Looper—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
September 28, 2012 12:59 AM
7 Comments
  • |
Photo by Alan Markfield - © 2012, Looper, LLC

Looper is a rare example of ingenious science-fiction storytelling where the fundamental concepts are so intriguing that their stylish execution feels like gravy. Knowing the central premise isn’t a spoiler: the film wants to explore every possible facet of that idea. What’s more, by taking place just thirty-odd years from now, writer-director Rian Johnson gets to share his thoughts about the bleak direction in which we’re all headed. His core idea: a hired killer from the future travels thirty years back in time in order to confront his younger self and change the course of history.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the younger Joe, whose conscience isn’t rattled by his job as a paid killer, because he never actually sees the hooded men he murders. What’s more, he gets to live what passes for the good life in 2044. (One of my favorite contemporary actors, Gordon-Levitt has had his face altered with prosthetic makeup so he will more closely resemble his future self, played by Bruce Willis. I’m not sure this was necessary: instead of emphasizing their facial similarities, it caused me to stare quizzically at Gordon-Levitt throughout the picture.)
Willis is risking a great deal by traveling back in time and trying to steer his younger self in the right direction. Worse yet, he finds the young man he once was to be incredibly stubborn and unwilling to take his advice. Their deadly game of cat-and-mouse, in which they’re both being tracked by the bad guys who run their operation, winds up in a bucolic country setting, where Emily Blunt and her young son become victims—and participants—in the unfolding of the tale.

Photo by Alan Markfield - © 2012, Looper, LLC

I wanted to love Looper, based on my initial response to its clever ideas, but it’s long, cold-blooded, and difficult to cozy up to. Just as you realize where it’s headed, the pace slows down (deliberately, I presume) and the filmmaker asks his audience to be patient as he leads us to his inexorable and none-too-happy conclusion. I still admire what Rian Johnson has pulled off, the same way I fell under the spell of his debut feature, Brick, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s a real talent with an unlimited future. And it’s impossible for me to carp too much about a futuristic movie that manages to pay homage, however briefly, to Casablanca. (Note the nightclub headquarters of the underworld boss played by Jeff Daniels.)

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7 Comments

  • JimmyMackey | February 6, 2013 2:13 PMReply

    That is interesting that you say the movie slows down on purpose, which, while watching I didn’t see, but now in retrospect, it did give me time to contemplate the blurring lines of morality all converging at the farm. Interestingly though, I thought this would be a light sci-fi movie for my wife and I to watch after I got home from working at DISH, but we ended up getting cozy since it was so graphic in nature. I like to watch movies at home sometimes so my wife and I can snuggle up on the couch, so I order the movie ahead of time with my DISH Blockbuster @Home, and it is ready for us to watch in full HD, on Blu-ray. I don’t have to drive to the video store or kiosk any more, and I get the best new releases sent right to my door, which is so convenient for us.

  • Flicked Off | October 14, 2012 2:59 AMReply

    A science fiction movie about time travel in which an old dude goes back to visit his younger self? Oh! Wow! Gee Whizz! What a novel idea. I wonder how many capitalist dollars the Chinese Communists paid Leonard Maltin to tout this dud.

    I think I'll skip it and rent some real sci-fi classics from the 1950s.

    Now a picture about, say, a rightwing American patriot who goes back to kill Chairman Mao before the Chi-Coms slaughtered fifty million of their own people -- that might be worth the admission price.

  • Jeffrey | October 6, 2012 3:15 AMReply

    This film is unrelentingly grim. As I got through the first 10-20 minutes, I realized I would have to muster the will power to get through it. The true horror of what this country will look like in the future really gave this film its identity.

  • surprise123 | October 5, 2012 8:08 AMReply

    First and foremost, it should be noted that this was a co-production with the Communist Chinese government, so, of course, communist Chinese and Communist China could not be not be portrayed in a bad light. And, right on key, that's what we get. A movie about time travel in which Communist China is the center of the universe in the future, and America has descended into a dystopian hell hole. Gee, what a surprise.

    I guess that is what we can expect more and more of in the future from blockbuster films: after all, China only permits 34 foreign-made films to enter its film market; only films made in China as co-productions and subject to Chinese censorship are exempt from that number. Does this sound familiar anyone? China expects foreign companies to transfer their expertise to domestic Chinese production companies, while demanding that more and more Western studio films portray Communist Chinese and Communist China in a positive light. So, domestically, we'll continue to see good, bad and indifferent portrayals of America, but only positive portrayals of Communist China

    And, the film? Frankly, half way into the film, I realized that my movie ticket was subsidizing authoritarian Communist China's censorship, and walked out of the theater. That's the first time I've ever walked out of a movie.

    But the half I saw? Dreadful. In spite of an interesting time travel premise, and innovative visual design, the movie was confusing and focused far too much on images and sounds of guns killing people. Very loud bangs of guns going off again and again and again. Very loud bangs of doors closing and objects falling. A very poor attempt of creating suspense through loud noises.

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I usually like, was covered in weird prosthetic make-up (which was distracting), and was trying to channel Bruce Willis: it was not an effective performance. Bruce Willis, the co-star, well, I'll just say that he has never been one of my favorite actors.

    Also strange was that in a movie of over 25 credited male roles set in Kansas City, America, and Shanghai, China, only one male actor was of a race other Caucasian. What is up with that? Can the Communist Chinese not stomach depictions of African American or Asian American males? Or, possibly the Chinese version had more roles for Chinese males (people in China get a longer Sino-centric Director's cut of the movie than we see in the West). It should be noted that in the half movie I saw, there were three women depicted (a blockbuster film with hardly any women in it --yet another surprise): a charming African American waitress in Kansas City, an idealized loving Chinese wife living in Shanghai, and a somewhat callous, materialistic Caucasian prostitute, also in Kansas City. So, the filmmakers seem fine with depicting women of racial diversity, but men get short shrift. If you're male, you're Caucasian, or you're not in the film. Weird.

    And, finally, this movie received excellent reviews (94% positive review on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.3 out of 10 on IMDB). The great new movie "The Master" with Phillip Seymor Hoffman only got 85%. If I were a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, I'd bet that the Chinese-American Co-Production company that made this film put the squeeze on Rotten Tomatoes, and hired people to post positive reviews on IMDB. Because that's the only way I can see this God awful mess getting such glowing reviews.

    This movie is a dog. Don't go and see it. And, don't subsidize Communist Chinese censorship.

  • Mark Whelan | October 1, 2012 7:30 PMReply

    Mr. Maltin, our definitions for the word 'ingenious' are far apart indeed...

  • jingmei | October 1, 2012 2:16 AMReply

    Have to mention that the kid (as somehow a very key role) in the film, by then was 5 years old now the actor is 7 years old, was just very much amazing.

  • Norm | September 28, 2012 9:34 AMReply

    So the question is do I stay in the present and watch the film , or go back in time and watch another, what a paradox...

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