‘Looper’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 4:15 am,

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Young Joe in Looper1 Looper Review

Looper is a pleasurable trip into an interesting vision of the future, where we are treated to a thought-provoking series of questions and scenarios, set against wild sci-fi plot devices.

Writer/director Rian Johnson’s new film Looper takes place in a future (the year 2044) in which specialized hitmen like young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) eliminate anonymous hooded victims sent back in time 30 years by a mob syndicate which exists in the year 2074. In the impoverished era of 2044, these hitmen (aka “loopers”) live like rich young rock stars; that is, until the day comes when a looper is tricked into ‘closing his loop’ – i.e., unwittingly killing his older self and earning thirty years of luxurious paid “retirement,” until that predetermined moment when he is sent back in time to face execution by his own (younger) hand. (Still with me?)

The wrinkle in time comes when young Joe suffers the unfortunate fate of recognizing his condemned older self (Bruce Willis) – allowing just enough hesitation for old Joe to make a brazen escape. With his ‘loop’ left unclosed and his employers now after him, young Joe tries to stay ahead of the pack long enough to eliminate older Joe – whose presence in the past is no mere coincidence, but rather the beginning of a much larger (and soul-crushing) mission to alter the future.

Looper Review starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt Looper Review

The first thing you should know about Looper is that it’s not quite what the trailers and advertisements have made it out to be. Yes, the driving engine of the story is the ‘young Joe vs. old Joe’ confrontation – but Johnson actually steers the chase hard left in the second act, expanding the film into a ruminative tale that uses sci-fi tropes like time travel, predetermination, and even telekinesis as methods of attacking more grounded and relatable moral/philosophical quandaries. As such, those hoping for Looper to be a nonstop run-n-gun action film are going to be disappointed with the high-style and slow-burn of Johnson’s film – while those who like their sci-fi deep and thought-provoking may be pleasantly surprised by how much substance this film actually has.

Time travel has become the bane of both sci-fi fans and storytellers alike, mainly because the plot device can quickly unravel into a distracting amount of contradiction, lingering question and gaping plot-holes. While Johnson’s script is smart in its uses of sci-fi devices (and unabashedly funny in its avoidance of explaining them in detail), even the acclaimed filmmaker behind whip-smart neo-Noir film Brick is not immune to a few missteps. The usual paradoxical questions related to time travel still rear their heads, and this film is not able to spin every one of them away with winking dialogue like, ‘that time travel stuff will fry your brain.’ Thankfully, the more grounded narrative through line makes up for the deficiencies in sci-fi logic, as Johnson finds a way to direct the more heady elements toward a steadily beating heart.

Joseph Gordon Levitt in Looper2 Looper Review

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in ‘Looper’

Visually, the film is crisp and stylish, with a washed-out palette (excluding vibrant club scenes early on when young Joe is drugged-out) that makes the CGI effects seem like natural and organic elements of a grungy future dystopia. Johnson’s vision of not one, but two, futures is rife with sci-fi borrowings (hover bikes, telekinesis, designer drugs, futuristic weapons, etc.) but everything is still re-shaped, grounded and gritty enough to make suspension of disbelief easy to accomplish (even when things begin to encroach upon comic book/anime territory).

As stated, Looper is less concerned with its sci-fi premise than it is with the development of its central characters – but in this area the film again falls short of perfection. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his meteoric rise as a leading man, and pulls double-duty here by carrying most of the film’s screen time and pulling off admirable mimicry of co-star Bruce Willis (even without the aid of silly facial prosthetics). Johnson carves a fascinating character out of young Joe – an unflinching killer whose stoic manner masks both great pain (born of the past) and great passion (for his finite future). Young Joe’s arc is the main thread of this convoluted narrative, and between Johnson’s clever subtext and Gordon-Levitt’s nuanced delivery, the dramatic climax to the film is well-earned and will spark the sort of endless debate about morality and personal values that Johnson was clearly shooting for (no pun).

Bruce Willis as old Joe in Looper Looper Review

Bruce Willis in ‘Looper’

Unfortunately, old Joe isn’t as well drawn as his younger counterpart. That’s not to speak ill of Willis – the aging leading man still delivers some quality dramatic acting and kick-ass action sequences – however, old Joe is as much a plot device as he is a fully-realized character. Fans seeking out the film because of Willis’ name on the marquee may be surprised by how limited his screen time actually is, and a lot of the bigger plot issues reside with his character (like how his presence in the past affects time, or how young Joe’s reactions to old Joe affect memory). Old Joe being a somewhat shallow character numbs the story’s final emotional punch to a degree, but Willis also does a solid job of adding depth where he can – which in turn causes further aggravation that his backstory and character are glossed over too quickly.

Aside from the two leads, Looper has a pretty wide cast of secondary characters. Emily Blunt’s character Sara and her young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) have been largely overlooked in the marketing materials, but the two are actually major focuses of the story, narratively and thematically. Blunt is given a precarious tightrope to walk (a mother both fiercely protective and deathly afraid of her child), but she pulls it off well with a mix of world-weariness, fierce determination and a passable Kansas accent. Gagnon is actually a breakout performer in the film, owning many scenes that call on him to oscillate between charmingly precocious and chillingly scary. The young man has definite talent.

Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon in Looper Looper Review

Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon in ‘Looper’

Other famous faces show up for bit roles: Jeff Daniels is a scene-stealer as the laid-back future-mob lieutenant sent to manage the looper squad; Noah Segan is great (but unfortunately scarce) as an enforcer named “Kid Blue”; Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood)  and Garret Dillahunt (Raising Hope) are both solid in their brief roles as hitmen, but Piper Perabo is unconvincing as a pragmatic-minded prostitue young Joe frequents.

In the end, Looper is a pleasurable trip into an interesting vision of the future, where we are treated to a thought-provoking series of questions and scenarios, set against wild sci-fi plot devices. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and even while not rock-solid in its execution, the (slightly) flawed result of Johnson’s endeavors still stands heads above as an example of quality sci-fi crafted by an artistic and creative filmmaker. Unlike its eponymous hitmen, Looper will likely enjoy long tenure in the sci-fi zeitgeist.

If you want to discuss the film in detail – Please head over to our Looper Spoiler Discussion. If you’re confused about the film, our Looper Explanation Post will help.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out the Looper episode of the SR Underground podcast.

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 Looper is now playing in theaters. It is Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

TAGS: Looper
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  1. Cool! 4 stars. I was afraid the movie might be a miss. Thank God It is not. Good Article Kofi!

  2. Just got back from seeing Looper which I felt was let down by the ‘slow burn’ middle act, the start and set up were awesome and easy to follow, the progression of Joes character clever, the young Joe’s narration, the chase scenes, the technology, all awesome, then we get to the farm and………snooze! Made me lose interest and get agitated so as the movie drew to an end the final set pieces kind of lost their impact for me, if they had of trimmed around 10 / 15 minutes of farm crap and kept up he pace that we began with then this would have definitely been he five star movie critics are giving it! 3.5

    • intresting reaction, was the opisite for me, the farm stuff just cranked up the intrigue to a whole new level. It because something. Etter than say a time travel face-off type movie

  3. I have to be honest,I was kinda interested in the movies when I was watching the trailer,but then I saw that Rion Johnson directed it,and that sapped any interest that I had.

    I hated Brick and I thought that fly episode of Breaking Bad was one of the worst episodes of any tv show that I’ve ever seen,so I’ll just wait for this one to come to Vudu before I see it.

    • “Fly” was one of the worst tv episodes ever?! You’ve blown my mind with that statement. I’d argue that Fly is one of the best episodes of Breaking Bad we’ve ever had, the amount of character building is incredible, you learn more about the relationship of Walt and Jesse in that episode than in the whole series.

      It sounds like you don’t get into the slow burn style though, which is just fine. That’s unfortunate though, as this movie looks great and I’m even more excited to hear that it’s not just a full on action flick.

      • I second that. Fly was the most boring episode of Breaking Bad.

        • I agree. The Fly episode was the 1st episode on Breaking Bad that I could have just done without.

          • And for the record,I love the show,and have been watching it since the beginning,but as soon as that episode started and I saw that Rian Johnson directed it,I was like,”uh,oh”. It ended up being worse that I imagined.

            Now to his credit,he did do an episode this season,and it wasn’t nearly as bad,thank goodness.

      • It was a great film Zach, and I agree with you about the BB ‘fly’ episode. I think you will be pleased with Looper. :)

      • I thought Brick was enjoyable, Breaking Bad’s ‘Fly’ WAS bad.

    • All the reviews for this have been hugely positive, not just amongst genre critics, but pretty much everyone who has seen it.

      And Brick was great.

  4. Willis was good in 12 Monkeys. An excellent time travel film directed by Terry Gilliam in 1995.

    I have 12M on DVD. I think I’ll rewatch it and then go see Looper……..

    Contrast and compare.

    • It seems from the review this movie has paradoxes, whereas ’12 Monkeys’ featured time travel in a continuum that couldn’t be altered. It’s a paradox in itself: a movie with stakes fraught with logical flaws versus an entertaining story in which nothing’s accomplished. At least, I hope that’s a fair take on the situation, because I really don’t feel like watching ’12 Monkeys’ again.

      • I like 12 Monkeys. Just the visuals alone are amazing. I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam so I am biased.

        Gilliam is great at world building. And not only does he have an excellent eye, but his movies are witty too. All those years in Monty Python didn’t go to waste.

        If Looper surpasses 12 Monkeys, then I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

      • “versus an entertaining story in which nothing’s accomplished.”

        If you’re talking about 12 monkeys then no it’s not quite fair.

        **** Spoiler Alert ************

        James Coles efforts lead the scientists in the future to the actual virus as evidenced by the Astrophysicist sitting next to Mr. Ponytail (Dr. Peters) on the plane, the guy who escaped Cole in the airport. Cole does save the future but at the expense of his own life…

  5. This review has convinced me to see it, if for no other reason than to let some smarter sci-fi bleach what’s left of ‘Prometheus’ from my mind’s eye.

  6. I don’t know, the commercial with the whole dubstep really turned me off. If there is no dubstep in the movie, I’ll go see it. otherwise no. I’ll walk out. I can’t stand that noise.

    • there’s none, that just seems to be the popular thing to use in movies this fall, alex cross is doing it too. the movie actually has very emotion based music in it

      • The new trend seems to be dubstep or modern music with period movies! See The Great Gatsby and Gangster Squad (which doesn’t seem to have removed the cinema sequence judging from the trailer that went with looper)

  7. I went to the midnight showing last night with some friends. This was one that I wanted to see since the whole debacle of Prometheus and I must say the movie is good but not great. The beginning and the end of the movie are just awesome but the middle of the movie is boring, especially the farm scene. It was a scene that just felt stretched out. I do see it resemble to 12 Monkeys a little bit and at times did feel like I was watching an updated version of it. Willis was Willis so he can expect his awesome action performance and GJL was just awesome. I’d give it a 3.5 stars just because of that farm scene. It just felt too strung out and did detract from the pace of the movie. If they cut it out 10 minutes from that scene I think it would have easily been a 5 star movie.

  8. What exactly is “a passable Kansas accident”?

    • Read: accent instead of accident.

  9. Has there been a 5 star movie all year? Just curious

  10. Can’t believe I have to wait till 14 December to see this :(

  11. I loved all the sci-fi this movie ended up portraying. I didn’t find the second act on the farm to be boring. Not a whole lot of character development can happen on the run and since most of what was happening to Young Joe was affecting Old Joe’s memory heavy action isn’t needed. I’m glad Johnson cut back there so the end was that much more powerful.

  12. This movie like legitimately blew me away. I’ve been sitting at my desk pouting all day because i’ll never be able to write anything like this.

  13. I would give this a 3 out of 5. I think the 4 out of 5 is a little too loaded of a score for so much that went wrong with the story. First of all the farm scene was entirely too long and messed with the first acts pace thus dragging the movies pace down to a halt. I also hated how the ending had such a pointless and anti climatic feel to it. If you want to see exactly how important a director truly is to the final quality of a movie you should definitely see this. Everything besides the core of the movie was sound, actors, screenplay, jeff daniels. The problem however was the fact that the movie didn’t have a true identity. It tried to be to many things at once and because of it lost its pace and significance.

    • Although it’s a slightly unpopular opinion, I felt the farm scene was needed. The character of Cid definitely needed time to build up, otherwise the ending would seem kind of…diminished. I didn’t have a problem with the ending at all. It felt better to end on a slightly more emotional, subdued moment than it would have if it had ended with a very action filled scene. I agree the identity of the film was a bit off, but overall I still enjoyed the movie. It had me gripped pretty much from the beginning. 4/5

  14. I disagree with people saying that the middle act was boreing. I loved this movie from beginning to end.

    • I second that! Great film.

      • I third. I had the added benefit of knowing very little about Looper going in, so the entire middle act was really interesting and very tense for me… and then that ending…! :-0

  15. So did middle Joe bang his own mom?

  16. Respectfully disagree. I think it deserves more praise. Looper for me, was the best movie of the year thus far. Last two movies I saw were the Master and Beasts of the Southern Wild. while both of those movies were visually stunning, I was bored by the lack of character depth. Looper had great characters, amazing performances, and a unique story that I loved.

    • Agree. Just came back from seeing this and it’s one of the better films to hit screens this year. I found the middle act, or “farm setting” very enjoyable. I love me some Emily Blunt! Great film.

  17. Will someone PLEASE explain to me the scenes in Loopers when first we see Bruce Willis (old Joe)w/o the head covered and he escapes young Joe’s execution BUT then the next scene we see Bruce Willis with his head covered and young Joe shoots him dead??

  18. Glad some of you thought it was a great movie. I am glad that this was
    not a non-stop action movie. We have enough of those.

  19. My husband had mentioned this movie and once he said time travel I was all for it. Plus who doesn’t love Levitt & Willis? Saw this film last night and I really enjoyed it. There were a view things that kept me from being in total awe of it though. First of all I felt that there were too many directions that this film was trying to take. Were we following the story line of young Joe vs old Joe…. Or was the main plot about the Rain maker?? I felt that some characters significance was lost by all the facets of this film. The lack of discussion and explanation of time travel left me a little disappointed. Some of the things I loved was the acting being superb! I really believed each actor was who they were trying to portray. I honestly didn’t think Levitts and Willis could pass as each other until I saw the film. Pretty spot on. Very convincing. The whole concept was interesting. Visually the film was exciting. The beginning of the film got my attention and kept me interested. The middle was a little confusing to me since it did slow the pace down and started a new focus of the plot. The end, although exciting, was a bit anti-climatic.
    3.5 stars- I would recommended that people see the movie for themselves. Like I said before- I really did enjoy it!

  20. guys sorry but this man is the joseph gordon levitt???He looks like him

  21. Its a great film, don’t be put off by the trailer which is kinda trying to attract young american teenagers and their dads with staring Bruce Willis (who is great in the film). The diner scene from the trailer is one of the most fascinating time travel conflict script edit in television/ movies. BUT if your not ok with the exploitation of children in films (although I have no idea how they got around the strange things that child had to say) or are put off by strange things happening to children, the strange and avoidable storyline involves children who are very young (they didn’t have to be that young for the plot to work out which bothers me) and the worst part doesn’t involve the main child and is reasonably unsettling if you admire Bruce Willis, in the end the storyline works out so you could — “make peace” — with “what happens” but is not great to watch. i don’t wish to spoil the film and did enjoy it but i know children can be a deal breaker in films for some people (its not as bad as “Drive” though), and as far as i could see no one left the theater. Hope this is helpful.

  22. Hmm… ANOTHER sci-fi time travel movie. Yay. A plot device that’s been do… do… done to deeeaaath… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Hu?.. Wha?? Oh. I’m sorry, just thinking about another boring time travel story made me doze off for a sec there.

  23. Great film alright though I think it falls short of being a classic. It’s solid, neat and tidy but it just doesn’t have the resonance that, I think, a sci-fi classic should have.

    I do wonder about the characterisation of Older Joe… given that he’s just Young Joe 30 years later I presumed we were simply to read both as one. But perhaps that’s me making excuses for the fact that he was indeed somewhat shallow as a character?

    • I didn’t find him as shallow as this review makes him out to be. Like you, I kind of combined the two characters. But I really liked how old Joe insults his younger self for being arrogant and selfish, while as we later find out, he’s exactly that. He thinks just because he’s learned to settle down it makes him a good person, but it doesn’t. He does terrible things. It’s interesting to see a character that’s supposed to be more mature and wiser being completely unaware of his hypocrisies. It’s a trend I see in much older adults too – they think that just because they’ve lived longer, they know how everything works and we shouldn’t question the things they do because they’re supposed to know better than us. And I like how young Joe is able to discover this for himself by watching his older self and realizing how much of a monster he has somehow become. It’s kind of the exact opposite of what you’d expect.

      Yeah. I don’t know. Food for thought?

  24. I think 3/5 is insane. I like the slow burn in the middle, there’s nothing worse than a whole film of action.

    If there was no slow burn in the middle, the ending would have been a flop. We needed that time to get all the character development in for the characters. I wasn’t bored, the kids perfomance was especially great and enjoyable to watch unfold.

    If you want a whole film of action action action and doe get battle weary from all the constant explosions but instead need it to keep your attention, then yeah, consider not watching the film. Wait for Transformers 4 or something.

  25. I found this film boring… Don’t get me wrong, it had a load of action scenes, but… I don’t know… I just couldn’t get into it… But that’s just me for some odd reason. It has BRUCE WILLIS AND GUNS!!! And yet… I just couldn’t get into it…

  26. I was soo let down seeing this flick after reading this review. It makes me iffy about trusting future screenrant reviews. I would rather have had a nice lunch and a beer instead of wasting my time with this movie.