Looper (2012) – Movie Review

looper movie reviewLooper was one of last year’s sci-fi action excitements and with its general premise and strong cast, the expectations were rightly high. However while it was an overall OK film and a lot better than a lot of its action movie contemporaries, Looper was needlessly overwritten and its lead performances fell far short of what we know both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are capable of.

Here we have a story of a dystopian future where men are hired as assassins and executioners, known as Loopers, to kill people sent to them through time from a further future. When Looper Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is confronted by a future version of himself (Bruce Willis) landing in his kill zone, he lets his target self go, which pretty much means sealing his own death at the hands of his bosses. So then we have a split story where Gordon-Levitt Joe is hunting down Willis Joe, while Willis Joe is off hunting down the kid who will eventually grow up to be the crime lord, The Rainmaker, that makes the future such a miserable place to live. Simple, right?

What’s interesting about this movie, and by far its strongest feature, is that we have two different versions of the same character battling against one another and trying to get each other to believe in their own present as the more valuable and the more legitimate. Willis Joe is of course wiser, more experienced, and he’s got a lot more to live and fight for than his hot headed young counterpart – mainly a love that young Joe can’t even fathom. Willis Joe wants to get Gordon-Levitt Joe moving into the right direction, but as far as he’s concerned Old Joe has had his time and made his choices and they are most definitely not the same guy.  Which Joe is the right Joe, and are they the same person at all? It’s this aspect of the film that opens up the whole can of philosophical worms, even if in exploring these ideas we’re presented with a range of brain breaking and implausible time-travel paradoxes.

But that’s about where the strengths end. The plot itself was needlessly twisty and multi-levelled and there was an overwhelming sense that not even writer-director, Rian Johnson knew what kind of film he was making. If we had stuck with a film about a young guy having to hunt down his older self, then that would have been a strong film. If we had a film about a guy who was trying to track down a kid who would grow up to be a crime lord, then that would have been a strong, if not a little prosaic, film. Having both plots moved together created too many superficial storylines and the sudden movement between one to the other was jarring and off-putting and felt like someone could have done with a lesson in story structure. If we had the film start closer to the Rainmaker’s story instead of changing to its focus two thirds of the way through, Looper could have worked as this double edged plot and been a far better movie.

And speaking of off-putting, the prosthetics applied to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him look more like Bruce Willis were a bad move on the film designer’s part. Willis could just as easily been a legitimate older version of Gordon-Levitt, and vice versa, and the make-up was simply distracting and made him look just plain wrong. We’ve all seen far more vibrant performances from both of these actors, so I can’t understand the bland routines we’re watching here. Has Bruce Willis lost his charisma?

Overall, Looper is a great premise lost in a poor structure. It’s a good looking film and it’s refreshing to have a sci-fi action blockbuster that doesn’t screen like a video game. Some more careful attention to script and this could have been a sci-fi classic worthy of 12 Monkeys comparison.


Kate Krake

Kate Krake (aka Kate Murphy) is a writer with a long established passion for all realms of popular culture. She lives in Brisbane, Australia. Find out more on Kate's Blog.