Writer/director Rian Johnson’s Looper has one of the most interesting and intelligent sci-fi premises to grace the big screen in a long while. In the future, once time travel has been invented and summarily outlawed, it will be used by the mob to send targets 30 years into the past to be disposed of by hitmen called “loopers.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young looper named Joe, who seems to be on the up and up, until the new boss in the future decides to “close his loop” by sending him his last target: his future self, played by Bruce Willis. But, does the film live up to its great premise? Spoiler alert: Bryan and I disagree. Seriously though, we may tip-toe into SPOILER country.
ADAM: Even after the somewhat expectation-lowering The Brother’s Bloom, Rian Johnson’s Looper still manages to underwhelm. A few fun moments and some fine acting never really overcome the story’s underlying sense of discord. And as Looper’s interesting premise slowly dissolves it reveals the film to be a bit more shallow and derivative.
BRYAN: Wow. Okay. So not a fan huh?
ADAM: No, I’m not. I don’t hate it, but it’s nothing amazing.
BRYAN: Well let’s start with Rian Johnson. I loved Brick, but I agree that The Brother’s Bloom was not nearly as good. The tone is a mess and it spins its wheels. Did you like Brick?
ADAM: Love Brick. It was almost on my top 20 of the decade.
BRYAN: So good. I’ve been on the Joseph Godon-Levitt bandwagon since that and Mysterious Skin the year before.
ADAM: Yeah, I’ve always liked him.
BRYAN: And you mentioned fine acting. He is great in Looper, as is Bruce Willis and the whole cast really.
ADAM: I don’t know that I’d say the whole cast, but I can agree JGL and Willis are both great. JGL perfectly evokes Willis’ steely cool reserve.
BRYAN: Well who did you not like?
ADAM: I think Kid Blue is one of the all-time most annoying characters in film. I don’t necessarily know that I blame Noah Segan, but he’s the most obvious target.
BRYAN: I thought Segan’s acting was great. Whether that character is necessary, I don’t know. Unless maybe we get more of him. Like he would be more justified if he was integrated even more.
ADAM: Ok, that brings me to my main problem with Looper… the lack of focus is ridiculous.
BRYAN: How so?
ADAM: Everything feels disjointed. On top of the fact that you have split protagonists, we keep checking in on Kid Blue, and then there’s the story with Emily Blunt and the kid that doesn’t even come into play till halfway through the movie. And there’s the whole setup with Paul Dano‘s character. There’s just too much. It’s scattershot.
BRYAN: Okay. Let’s stop a second. I see what you’re getting at. And I kind of agree, but for different reasons. You might be able to tell that I did like Looper, a lot, but with a few reservations. The movie is split into two halves. The first is the noir-thriller, and the far more interesting half. The second is more of a drama, like Witness meets Akira. It is different, but still interesting. And not scattershot. I think it is very intentional and I go with it because it is still thematically constant. And no, I don’t think they intro Dano’s character very well but the payoff is still gruesome and terrific.
ADAM: I do really like the first half of the film. I can’t say that I ever thought of Akira during the second half, but I can see Witness. I guess I can agree that it’s thematically constant, but I kinda just take that for granted. The tonal shift really doesn’t work for me though. It’s like I was watching one movie and then someone said, “Oh, well if you like that, then you’ll probably like this too,” and then they changed the channel.
BRYAN: It doesn’t kill the whole film for me.
ADAM: It totally does for me.
BRYAN: I agree the first half is the better half and the film slows down too much, but it still works. Also, there are 7-8 set piece moments that really kill.
ADAM: Once we get to the second half of the film, I’m just sitting there finding all the holes in the logic of Johnson’s take on time travel.
BRYAN: Really? I mean time travel films have natural paradoxes but I wasn’t disappointed with how he presents his version. What I wanted was more cat and mouse stuff and more expansion of the universe. Instead he narrows the scope.
ADAM: I know that time travel films naturally have paradoxes, but the good ones never give me time to think about them while I’m watching them.
BRYAN: But again. Everything he does serves the theme quite nicely. Maybe the film slows down, but the point of his story stays on course.
ADAM: I don’t care if it’s all in service of his theme. I care that it’s entertaining.
BRYAN: Well, it is. I mean the movie is wonderfully violent. Willis kills lots of people like a badass. JGL is cool as shit. The one trip to the future is amazing. The diner scene is brilliant.
ADAM: Yes, the diner scene is great. I don’t know that I would call it wonderfully violent. Dredd is wonderfully violent. Looper has shorts bursts of violence. It sputters.
BRYAN: It’s pretty violent dude. They show a dozen looper kills.
ADAM: That’s not action. That’s someone appears and gets shot.
BRYAN: I said violent. Plenty of blood is spilled in this movie. Hard to compete with Dredd, but it’s still a lot.
ADAM: I don’t care about the simple act of violence. It’s bland violence.
BRYAN: Okay. Okay. Well, you said you found it shallow and derivative. Explain that some more.
ADAM: It turns into The Terminator, only the twist is the guy hunting the kid is also the guy protecting the kid, but it’s still just The Terminator.
BRYAN: But they do a good job of shifting your allegiances. Sometimes you’re rooting for Old Joe. Other times Young Joe.
ADAM: That’s great… I’d rather watch The Terminator.
BRYAN: Can’t we watch both?
ADAM: He had an amazing original premise and then it just turns into The Terminator. You can watch both. I’ll just stick with The Terminator.
BRYAN: Well, I think we agree that the film falters a little. I think it just bugged you more. I think there is enough good, enough cool, enough original stuff here to look forward to multiple viewings and piece together little nuggets that I missed the first time.
ADAM: Look, I don’t hate this movie, but I don’t ever need to see it again either. That would be my poster quote.
BRYAN: So harsh. But then again, I am more forgiving of anything time travel related.
ADAM: Yeah, I can think of at least 5, maybe even 10 time travel movies I prefer to this, and two of them start with the words “Bill & Ted.” It’s an ok time travel movie. It’s a mediocre action movie, but it’s fun to watch JGL and Bruce Willis. And Jeff Daniels is great.
BRYAN: “Always” great.