The Beginning is the End is the Beginning: A Review of “Looper”

What? I’m not above reusing jokes for the title. Sue me. Besides, it’s far more appropriate a line for Rian Johnson’s Looper than it was for The Dark Knight Rises, as we’ll see in a moment.

I loved Looper. I loved the clever visuals, the tight storytelling, the smart dialogue, the great characters, the thematic richness, practically everything. Most of all, though, I loved what Looper represents.

Here is a movie which showcases nothing if not its creators dedication to his craft and attention to detail. It represents effort, a quality which seems sorely lacking in so much filmmaking these days. I mean, every movie requires effort to get itself made, but it’s that willingness to go the extra mile, to put a little bit of brainpower into creating a film, that makes Looper the instant classic it is.

I hear Looper‘s detractors arguing that the first and last halves of the film don’t really gel, and I totally disagree. Without spoilers, the story goes in a very unexpected direction about halfway through, one which the trailers don’t give away and which may be jarring to a viewer expecting a story which hinges on time-travel. However, I think that the two halves of Looper are two great tastes that taste great together. I understand that this may not “feel” right to a lot of viewers, but I never had a problem with it. And the climax tied it all together so perfectly that I couldn’t fault it. I see where these arguments are coming from, but I don’t think the argument really makes sense.

After all, thematically, Looper is kind of a masterpiece. The way that it uses time-travel as a metaphor for the vicious cycles of violence that we cause is some sort of brilliant, and it makes the ending surprising, but inevitable, a trademark of great storytelling. Is it the twisty-turny mess-with-your-mind movie that everyone kind of expected it to be? No, but that’s clearly not what Rian Johnson was attempting. He wanted to tell a story about violence breeding violence, and time-travel was a good framework to tell that story. Perhaps the addition of telekinesis as a plot device is stretching audience trust a little bit, I’ll concede that point, but I can’t think of a way to tell this story without its inclusion. I’ve walked out of a lot of movies wanting to walk right back in and see it again. With Looper, it was different. I walked out and wanted to buy the screenplay so that I could read it over and over.

And it’s not just the story. Looper also puts a surprising emphasis on its characters. During a lengthy scene, Johnson’s camera lingers on Emily Blunt’s character Sara as she reflects on her past life as a druggie and a lowlife. Blunt plays the emotions of the scene well, even though it doesn’t seem that important to the impending showdown between Young and Old Joe. Johnson’s insistence on her monologue accentuates her embarrassment at the way she led her life (which mirrors Joe’s revelry in his drug use and partying) and her commitment to her son, which both become crucial to the arcs of nearly all of the main characters during the final scenes. In Looper, everything comes back around eventually.

Emily Blunt does a great job, then, but what about our two leads? Joseph Gordon-Levitt does well for himself, playing a character which may be the evil twin of his character in The Dark Knight Rises. Joe is corrupt, violent, and impassive. He pulls off the bluntness of his character with panache, but even more impressive is his spot-on imitation of Bruce Willis. It’s not just the stellar makeup job, which in many scenes is completely spot-on. Gordon-Levitt has nailed Willis’ mannerisms and tics, both physical and vocal. I can’t wait to see a video of Gordon-Levitt’s performance side-by-side with older Willis performances, because those little details in his face make all the difference. Willis himself is pretty good too. I never doubt that he’s putting everything he’s got into a role. It just depends on how much you give him, and he’s got some pretty heavy moments to play in Looper, which he handles with the skill of a man who’s done this many, many times before. Looper isn’t his movie, per se, but it’s the best Bruce Willis movie in at least ten years. Sometimes I wonder if he can tell the difference between something like this and something like Surrogates, seeing as how he took both roles and phoned in neither.

Is Looper all that visually distinctive? On the surface, not that much. It doesn’t look too different from much sci-fi action today, apart from it taking place mostly during the day. Again, it’s the little details that make it. There’s a visual motif involving clouds (clouds in the sky, the swirling shapes of cream in coffee, and others), reflecting Old Joe’s line that time-travel makes his thoughts and memories “cloudy”. The soundtrack adds an audible motif involving a ticking clock, which has the effect of adding tension to certain scenes, and tying the climax to the opening moments in the minds of the audience. But my favorite moment of all? In the vital scene in which Young and Old Joe meet for the first time, Johnson draws attention to a single, distinctive cloud in the sky above them. It doesn’t affect the story in any way, and none of the characters ever mention it. But it’s so distinctive that my friend mentioned it to me after the movie. “What was that cloud all about?” he wondered. And that’s when it dawned on me.

It was a loop-de-loop. Well done, Rian. Well done.

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Josh Rosenfield

Josh Rosenfield is a Film Media major at the University of Rhode Island. He has been writing Popcorn Culture since 2010.

2 thoughts on “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning: A Review of “Looper””

  1. What’s not so fantastic is the complete turnaround that the film does at the halfway point. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to talk about too much without spoiling what happens, so I’ll refrain from doing so. That said, while I’m usually all for a film going in an unexpected direction I found that the direction Looper took was one that didn’t take advantage of its premise and the momentum that had been built up to that point. The movie also slows to a crawl, as Young Joe is left waiting around with farmhouse owner Sara (Emily Blunt; The Five-Year Engagement) for the action to come to them. Similarly, the time-travel element is replaced by a fresh plot that would feel right at home in a Stephen King story featuring scary children (take your pick!). Don’t misunderstand, it’s not bad in and of itself but I felt that this direction prevented the film from capitalising on its full potential.

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