October 8, 2012

Looper

A smart and thoughtful vision, and a clever exploration of time travel, but Looper's overcomplicated time-travel Möbius strip muddles the motivations and heart of the movie. Emily Blunt and her young son provide some emotional heft, but the movie (and my brain) spent too much energy placing the puzzle pieces together to appreciate the journey the characters were taking. B-minus.

The year is 2044. Joe is a Mob hitman whose 30 - years - older self comes back in time to change the course of "history". Problem is, the Mob wants Old Joe dead, and Young Joe has no future as long as Old Joe defies his fate.
After 30 years of crime and loneliness, Old Joe finally found peace and true love. This is all ripped away by the new boss of his old Mob, so Old Joe's motivations are clear- go back 30 years and prevent the ascent of the mysterious "Rainmaker" who would someday rule the Mob and destroy all he had to live for. Yes, this is the plot of the second "Terminator" movie, except the "John Connor" in Looper is 10 years old and destined to be an evil kingpin, not the leader of the resistance.
Young Joe doesn't appreciate Old Joe's struggle against destiny. Young Joe is thinking short-term: he cannot escape the wrath of the Mob in the here-and-now, as long as his older self defies his fate and muddles in his own history, so Young Joe must kill Old Joe before the Mob catches up to them both.

 Young Joe is the protagonist of the film, and I am puzzled by his motivation. He begins the film as a cold-blooded assassin who is struggling against his destiny: doomed to be executed when the Mob can no longer use him. He hoards his treasure, in the hopes that he can escape his fate someday. So when his older self arrives and explains what will become of him, Young Joe does not join forces with Old Joe to change the course of his life. Instead, he refuses to be told what will become of him. It seems unrealistic, even in the hopeless near-future where this movie is set, to imagine any 30 year old trying to kill themselves at age 60 instead of taking a chance at extending that deadline. Doesn't there need to be an emotional arc for the protagonist to travel?
At the halfway mark, the movie transforms in to the standard Western "standoff at the isolated farmhouse" template- screen doors, pickup trucks, vagrants sleeping in the barn, creaky floorboards, you name it. Emily Blunt (flawless American accent) is Sara, the tough single mother with a shotgun, defending her young son (Pierce Gagnon). Young Joe is the dangerous stranger whom Sara slowly begins to trust; she literally helps clean out his wounds while talking all folksy. All we needed was a cowboy hat.
The sci-fi fan in me appreciated the cleverness of the time travelling: Young Joe cannot keep anything from Old Joe- as soon as Young Joe does something, Old Joe "remembers" it.  Remember Marty McFly's family photo, with the disappearing siblings? In Looper, a retired hitman's fingers begin to disappear as his younger self is tortured to death.
The aspect of Looper that I thought would be the biggest problem: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's prosthetic appliances, combined with his Bruce Willis impression, turned out to be surprisingly good. It doesn't change the fact that we all remember what Bruce Willis really looked like 30 years ago. If I were the director, I probably would have just ignored the issue and left off the prosthetics, but they probably helped more than they hurt.
Bruce Willis 30 years ago and today; JGL playing Bruce at that age (center)