The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

October 29, 2012

‘Looper’: back to the present from the future

Monday, October 29, 2012 — Movies and television have given us a plethora of “time travel” stories over the years. Some have been very somber and others have been played for laughs. Almost always, if the film is going from the present back to days gone by, the choices one makes in the past have effects on the future, sometimes changing the timeline in extreme ways. The very best time travel films are those that pose great moral questions like “If you could kill Hitler as a child, would you do it?” That’s the question posed most often in discussions of time travel, but I can think of a great many more. Time travel is almost always interesting, but the occasions when it offers thought-provoking and challenging dilemmas, it is the best it can be: truly engaging and entertaining.

I am happy to report that “Looper” is one of those “time travel” movies. The premise that one can glean from the trailer is simple. A young man kills those who are sent back to his present from the future. Whenever the future crime syndicate wants to get rid of someone, they send him 30 years into the past where he will be executed by one of their young assassins. At a certain point, the crime leaders will send back an older version of the hit man to be killed by his younger self. This explains the title; the life has made a “loop,” the killer has become the prey of himself, thus he is a looper. If that sounds confusing, it is not on screen. As I wrote above, this is all in the trailer.

But then one of the best things in the world happens; “Looper” begins to be about so much more than just what was in the trailer.

If you do not count as science fiction any of the superhero movies of this year, and I do not (at this point I think hero movies have become a separate genre of their own), then “Looper” is the best science fiction film of 2012, thus far anyway. And not because of the great gimmick of a man hired to kill his future self. That alone would make the film intriguing, but it is so much more than that twist. The second and third acts of this film are extraordinary. And the moral questions and choices are impressive.

Does one act selfishly and save the one he loves? Does one embrace hope in the idea that the future is not set, but ever changing by our current choices? These questions are not new to time travel films, but they are rarely asked with such emotion and poignancy.  

The film has other strengths. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, the assassin ultimately assigned to kill himself. Gordon-Levitt is having a stellar year with roles in “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Premium Rush,” “Looper” and Spielberg’s “Lincoln” coming out in November. Of the three films already released in 2012, “Looper” has his strongest performance. Bruce Willis plays the older version of Joe and we can hope he chooses more roles like this in the future rather than “Expendables 3, 4 or 5.” Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano (who were so great in “Ruby Sparks” earlier this year) also have strong supporting roles. The special effects of the film are excellent as well as the art direction and cinematography. I saw a report on television about how they used make-up so that Gordon-Levitt would look more like Willis; this make-up work is oscar-worthy. “Looper” is a well-crafted film.

But the greatest strength of “Looper” is the screenplay. This is smart writing. Several actors could have pulled off these performances. The look of the film, though very good, could have been designed by someone else and been no less pleasing. What matters here is the story. Go see “Looper” for the story. When the credits begin to roll, I am pretty sure whether you like the ending or not, you will agree, it is brilliant. Take someone with you so you can discuss it on the way home.  

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