I remember the first time I saw an action movie; I was at summer tennis camp. We’d play tennis all day, and then the camp councilors would take us out for evening activities. The two times I went to this one camp they said we’d go out to a baseball game one night out of the seven, but it always got cancelled. I mean, they took us mini-golfing and bowling, too, but for whatever reason, we’d go to the movies at least twice during that long week of hell (mid-July, Providence, RI, hours on heat-absorbing asphalt. It sucked.)
Before that, I usually either watched cheesy romance comedies with my mom, or movie adaptations to my favorite young adult books, or Disney. I considered action movies silly, loud, and simply outside of my realm of interests. Nevertheless, the one week I went to tennis camp not one movie was playing that I wanted to go see. I stood in line for ages trying to choose something, but I hadn’t kept up with the trailers; I was at a loss. I also didn’t have any close friends at this camp, so I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of. And I certainly wasn’t going to go see something just because everyone else was doing it (high school = angst).
So I decided to just go with it: I bought a ticket for Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth in the Bruce Willis bad-ass NYPD cop sequence. Of course, I had no idea there were three more, at the time, but I adored the snarky banter between John McClane and Matt Farrell. I loved the action, the noise, the chase, the adventure of it all. I loved how sweetly evil Thomas Gabriel held himself, and I loved the question the movie posed: what if someone suddenly took control of the U.S. by way of resources? What would we do? Of course, not everyone goes to see a Die Hard movie to extrapolate some deeper meaning or commentary on the way we live our lives today, but I tend to bend towards the philosophical side of things. The point is, I fell in love with this genre, and this love led to an insatiable thirst for films “that make you think”, or, in broader terms, physiological thrillers. Of course, within the action genre there is action for the sake of action. This is when the car the hero drives and the car chase are the most important elements of the film. But there’s also action that can formulate an intricate and unique take on–are you ready for the quintessential English-major phrase?–the human condition.
And now the same Bruce Willis, from the Die Hard movie that initiated my interest in film of the thought-provoking kind, partners with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Rian Johnson’s Looper. The purpose of a film review is for the critic to inform her audience whether or not the film delivers. I ask you–you kind and patient audience, who has put up with my tangential tendencies thus far–what are you looking for?
The Looper trailer is deceiving. It focuses on the relationship between Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his older self (Bruce Willis). The trailer sets up the world of the film–how it takes place twenty or thirty years into the future. Joe says, “Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been.” This allows a mob from the future to send its victims back in time, to Joe’s present, and Joe gets paid in silver to dispose of them. This is Joe’s job, and his title is Looper.
But–there’s always a catch–somebody from the future called The Rainmaker wants to “close the loop” of these assassins. In other words, a looper is set up kill his future self. After he fulfills this task, he has thirty or so years to live before his life comes full circle. Unless, of course, he manages to escape his former self. Once Old Joe (Bruce Willis) undermines his younger identity (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), he takes it upon himself to find the child-version of The Rainmaker, to kill the would-be man who sets this cycle into motion.
Meanwhile, Present Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is on the run from his boss, Abe. He hopes to kill his future self in order to salvage his relationship with his employer, to keep his silver and finish his thirty or so more years in France. Joe finds himself on the farm where one of the possible child Rainmakers lives, so he sits and waits for his future self to arrive so he can finish him(self) off.
Whew, there’s a bit of summary. The world of Looper is an intricate one, and so deserves a lengthy explanation. I haven’t done it justice, which means you, reader, should go see this film and watch how it builds upon itself. If you’ve seen either of Johnson’s other films (Brick and The Brothers Bloom), you’d recognize Johnson’s style of transfiguration–his layering of metaphor on top of metaphor so that the film becomes an alternative reality meta-life. The Circle of Life becomes more real than it’s possibly imaginable. It’s awesome.
I’ve been lucky enough to see this film twice now, and I was entertained both times. I will say that Johnson’s other films have seen more wit in their days. The entirety of The Brothers Bloom script is quotable (which, I believe, was in fact the point, since the premise of the film deals with the impossibilities of an unwritten life). In comparison, Looper has two or three memorable lines. The first half of the film takes its time explaining itself. The real meat of the plot occurs within the last twenty minutes or so, but, damn, does it come together. By the time the credits roll, one expects oneself to want more, but happens to find the self satisfied. Odd how the film evokes that duality within the viewer.
On a less heady note, I found Emily Blunt’s mid-western accent truly charming. Besides Looper, I’ve only ever seen her in The Devil Wears Prada and The Adjustment Bureau and I was heavily disappointed with her role in the latter. I got a wider sense of her range from seeing her perform in Looper as Sara–a mother who wishes to redeem her former self and protect her son. Gordon-Levitt does well as Joe, a noble young man who is not overly showy. This allows other characters to cultivate their individual personalities. Kid Blue and Abe act as antagonists to Joe and his older self, but they are not one-dimensional, as some “villains” tend to be, which is impressive, considering the complexity of the looper world to begin with.
You can go see Looper, without picking through it piece by piece to find its inner meaning, and still be entertained. It’s funny, it has interesting characters, and it has an engaging premise. However, if you are the type that gets off on unraveling metaphors, the more you dig into Looper, the more you get out of it.