By Film Editor Lisa Weidenfeld
Time travel movies! After you see them, you get to spend the next half an hour picking out the paradoxes. Is it even possible to make a time travel movie without some paradoxes? Writer/director Rian Johnson’s “Looper,” set in the near future, is the latest effort. It stars a heavily made up Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the titular looper, Joe. A looper is someone who assassinates people from the future when they’re sent back to the past. Evidently, in the future, it is much more difficult to dispose of bodies. Since Gordon-Levitt gets rid of them by dumping them in a furnace, we are to conclude that time travel exists in the future, but fire does not.
Why is JGL so heavily made up, you might ask? Why, it’s to make him look more like his future self, Bruce Willis, who shows up in the present eager to resolve one or two minor issues that have popped up in the future. Since time travel is being run by organized crime in the future, you might expect to see situations like this crop up more often, but apparently they’ve got a good handle on who travels back. At any rate, present day-Joe is supposed to assassinate future-Joe, but fails to do so, and then it’s a race between present-Joe, future-Joe, and the crime syndicate that employs both Joes to see who can resolve their issues first.
Johnson maintains a tense, moody atmosphere throughout, and the movie slows only when Gordon-Levitt decides to spend a little time on a farm run by Emily Blunt. Emily Blunt is great, but she is from Kansas like I am from the moon. Rest assured, despite the farm interlude, this is an action movie, with plenty of violence, occasionally graphic. Before Willis shows up, another looper, played by Paul Dano, also fails to kill his future self. What happens to both of them is one of the more unnerving things I’ve seen onscreen in quite a while. That scene may stay with me longer than anything else in the film.
Gordon-Levitt, usually more of an onscreen firecracker, is somewhat hamstrung by the silly make-up and his character’s morose nature, but he gets some of Willis’ mannerisms down perfectly. Overall, the make-up ends up drawing attention to how different the two actors are, but I didn’t find that it was a make-or-break issue for enjoying “Looper.” Because of Gordon-Levitt’s expressionlessness, the movie ends up providing a primer on how to act without too many facial expressions, because Willis is a pro at it. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s just his superhero power, but it’s possible Willis is the unrivaled king at expressing total despair and a need for revenge without ever changing his face. Something about the eyes, perhaps.
The future in “Looper” is dark and foreboding, with a vagrant problem and seemingly few opportunities outside of looping. It’s also a world where women have one of two roles: prostitute or farmer. Sorry, ladies! You can be a symbol of hope to the menfolk, or you can get off the screen.
When you’re in the world of “Looper,” you’re engrossed and tense. When you leave the world of “Looper,” you might start feeling a little dissatisfied. But it’s a dark, twisty thriller that gets its hooks in even when it’s a little silly.