Showing time travel in films is tricky, but it’s been smartly done before. “Looper” makes several mistakes in its presentation of the phenomenon, but also carries these missteps over to its premise. The action, drama, suspense, and performances are all entertaining, but at the end, it’s impossible not to come back to the faults in the film’s foundation. Even if you disregard the conflicting beliefs in time travel and its effects on the future and the past, certain standard practices employed by the characters beg exploration for their counterproductive results. Also, if you’re going to show the audience multiple timelines, why do the characters clearly believe in only one? Perhaps the time travel is merely a means to an end, a tool to aid in the display of moral conflict; but then we certainly need more concrete boundaries to ease the suspension of disbelief. It’s not enough to simply have Jeff Daniels’ persona surmise that overthinking the space-time continuum will “fry your brain like an egg.” Writer/director Rian Johnson shouldn’t have so boldly brought that lazy cover-up to our attention in the first place.
In the year 2044, time travel has not yet been invented. But in 30 years it will have been. Banned and outlawed, only powerful criminal organizations use the illegal technology to dispose of those that stand in their way. When the mob sends their enemies back into the past, specialized assassins called “Loopers” await their arrival to kill them and eliminate any trace of the bodies. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such killer, a selfish mercenary concerned only with his own directionless life, willing to sacrifice even his closest friends for a few more bricks of silver. But when his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time as his next victim, Joe finds himself hesitating to pull the trigger – allowing his target to escape. Now, with time running out and enraged mob boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) hot on his trail, Joe must track down and destroy his future self in order to save his present life.
Without a doubt, “Looper” is thought provoking. It possesses a distinct vibe of blending “Terminator” with “12 Monkeys” – with assassins sent through time, moralities explored, sacrifices weighed, and deathly serious, violent situations resulting. Many of its concepts, although morbid and occasionally gruesome, are undeniably unique, bringing into question the lengths humans will go to right wrongs, obey orders, and undo errors of the past. Closing the loop of murder (by murdering one’s future self), only traveling backwards in time, exacting riveting, gritty revenge in a semi-futuristic world, a film noir narration, and the unforgiving, darkly serious tone of mistakes and redemption play out amusingly and unexpectedly. It’s not paced with nonstop action sequences – and that’s perhaps its biggest asset, reserving moments to create more complex characters and more circuitous time travel conundrums.
The greatest botheration in the naturally problematic arena of time travel is not in the mathematics presented, but rather the supplemental explanations and contrived coincidences that exist almost haphazardly. The introduction of telekinesis is exasperating and works to distance the premise from believability, while the storyline struggles to prevail with a single timeline, yet distinctly visualizes two. As soon as more than one possible future manifests, it stands to reason that an infinite number of potentialities could survive simultaneously. But the film’s twists and order of events are only sensible with one timeline – with all variable futures vanishing as new decisions are made. Memories are sticky, interactions are confusing, and the telekinetic element is distracting. But “Looper” still has entertainment value from its characters, ideas, and intensity, which will likely divert viewer attentions from loopholes.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)