Story: Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a ‘looper’: he assasinates people who are sent back, by criminals, from the future. He is pretty happy with this until one day, the person being sent back is his older self (Bruce Willis). Joe fails to make the kill, and subsequently both Joe’s are on the run from their criminal employers. But old Joe has a plan to make sure that all of this will actually never happen…
Time travel films are tricky. They are necessarily filled with inconsistencies. Take for example this scenario. Person A travels back in time to prevent disaster X from happening. However, if he succeeds, then there will be no need, in the future, for person A to travel back and prevent disaster X from happening. So it will happen, prompting person A, in the future, to travel back in time and prevent it from happening. The big question is always, if someone from the future travels back in time, is his past (the future) than past or future? And what is that that you are changing? The past or the future?
The only film I ever saw getting it right was Back to the Future. And that film took two guys three years to write! So, considering that we quite enjoy time travel films, we must necessarily accept that there are often loopholes in them. Plotholes. Inconsistencies. Mistakes. Actually, part of the fun of the time travel film is trying to figure out where they went wrong…
Of course, not too much time doing that must be spent while the film is still playing. It is best if you only start puzzling after the end credits roll. As was for instance the case with last year’s Source Code. This film certainly wasn’t flawless in its time-travelling logic, but I only noticed that after the film. While it was playing I was completely involved in the action and the story.
Unfortunately, Looper had me puzzling throughout the film. Which is not to say that it is more inconsistent or illogical than other time travelling films. It is just too complex. Too tricky. Back in the middle ages an English monk called William of Ockham proposed the following: if two explanations of the same phenomenon explain that phenomenon well, than the simplest explanation must be right. ‘Ockham’s Razor’ this is called. And Looper would benefit from a close shave by old William. Why, for instance, must future loopers always be killed by their past selves? Isn’t that unnecessarily complex, and asking for problems?
All of which is, again, not to say that Looper isn’t a good film. Quite the contrary. It is well acted. Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries the film, proving himself as a confident and grown-up lead actor. Bruce Willis does a good job, especially in a devastating scene with a little kid that will have you on the tip of your seat. And Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels have interesting supporting roles.
Director Rian Johnson previously made equally stylish (if not equally succesfull) films with Brick and The Brothers Bloom. Johnson is a bit of an oddball director. His earlier films had an air of cold detachment to them. This worked very well for Brick, but less so for The Brothers Bloom. In Looper, there is hardly any detachment. In the shocking finale, there is no lack of engagement. You are there, with the characters, in their world and their story. And yet you do keep puzzling: “Wait, if he does this now, than what will yet to have been happening in the future…?”
Final verdict: Although a bit too complex for its own good, Looper is an engaging and thrilling action adventure. A plot like a Moebius strip does not get in the way of caring for the characters, which is central to making a succesfull film.