It’s hard to know what to say about Looper without sounding like a sycophant. I hate time travel stories, have with a passion for years, and probably will continue doing so for the most part—just ask Dave—but I can’t bring myself to even dislike Looper a little, despite it being supersaturated with the worst time travel tropes and inconsistencies. Why is it so good? It’s almost good in spite of Bruce Willis, who has a habit of ruining movies in his old age by sleepwalking through his acting responsibilities, but who is here somehow inspired to pull out his A-game. I think we can thank director Rian Johnson for that.
Johnson was not particularly well known before Looper, but his earlier films Brick and The Brothers Bloom were somewhat more than mere cult classics. Brick (2005) featured a younger Joseph Gordon-Levitt—who is cast as the Young Joe to Willis’s Old Joe in Looper—as a highschooler who plays noir detective in his free time. The Brothers Bloom (2008) told the story of a pair of fraternal confidence men. Both films are filled to the brim with, well, life, for lack of a better term. At times during Bloom you feel like the modern world has been taken over by the spirit of Homeric Greece, all sun and exuberance and love for every single character in the story, even the despicable ones.
The basic story of Looper is set up sufficiently well in the trailer, and I feel no need to repeat it here. The story does not quite unfold in usual three-act or “dramatic arc” structure, but neither does it make a (heh) loop. It’s more of a spiral, or a peeling onion with a fascinating revelation in every layer, some of which may, yes, make you cry. But not if you’re manly. Just saying.
Gordon-Levitt’s makeup job and method imitation of Willis is uncanny, even if the fact that it is makeup is too often apparent. Willis has a lot to play with, and makes some interesting choices regarding how the same person may change over the course of thirty years. Emily Blunt as the sort of love interest Sara probably has more acting chops than many of the other actors, and isn’t afraid to use them. Garret Dillahunt is cast in a role that, for so many reasons, hearkens back to his stint on The Sarah Connor Chronicles as a Terminator. Jeff Daniels shows up to collect his paycheck on schedule. The very young Pierce Gagnon has a surprisingly meaty part for such a young boy, and I suppose it’s a testament to Johnson’s directing abilities that he can do so much with him.
Did it bother me to see more confusing time travel logic than Timecop? Certainly. Was I bemused that Kansas will be growing a major metroplex within thirty years? Absolutely. But do you know why I didn’t care? Because Rian Johnson knows that if you cast Bruce Willis in a movie, there has to be at least one scene where he goes batshit crazy and singlehandedly shoots every last bad guy with a small armament of guns.