‘Loopers’ isn’t great, but it is pretty good

By Gary Clift

Writer, Director, and Editor Rian Johnson’s “Loopers” wants to be a big, important movie about an idea. But when the idea is sprung on us in the film’s last ten minutes, this comes as a surprise.

Sometimes it can be a rush, finally getting the element that ties everything in a film together. But that isn’t really what happens here. The viewer isn’t looking for a way to make sense of the whole. He’s only waiting for an imaginative action scene..

Why aren’t we prepared to get a MESSAGE at the end of the picture? After all, “Loopers” runs almost two and a half hours with the previews—long enough to suggest its own significance. And its cast is certainly stellar: Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Piper Pearabo who appears as a topless showgirl and prostitute.

But still we don’t get the idea that “Loopers” is big moral territory. Perhaps the music doesn’t do its job of signaling significance. Or maybe the problem is that the apparently non-essential plot elements really don’t serve the purpose of the closing philosophic utterance.

Loopers are contract killers. They live in a Kansas metropolis in 2044, and work for a mob boss (Daniels) sent back in time to run this murder conveyor belt—a scheme which makes sense only because disposal of bodies in the future has become so difficult.

Looper Joe (Gordon-Levitt) meets his targets in a plowed field beside a stand of cane of some sort. He shows up at an appointed time and spreads a tarp. A kneeling human appears on the tarp. He shoots the human, wraps him up in the tarp, and goes off to dispose of the body.

But there are rumors of a future mob boss called The Rainmaker, someone who rose very fast in the organization. Someone who is ordering that all Loopers be killed. Already a 2044 looper has been killed by the organization for failing to murder a target, a man (the looper’s older self?) who then escaped and began fading away one finger at a time. What are we to make of that?

Then the older Joe (Willis) appears on the younger Joe’s tarp. The Elder has a method for escaping, though, and uses it. Later he tells his younger self that the men who came at the behest of the Rainmaker to get him and send him back in time also killed his beloved wife.

So as long as the Elder is in 2044, he’s going out to kill a trio of four-year-old boys, one of which is supposed to grow up to become the Rainmaker. If old Joe kills the future mob boss now, that may save his wife in the future.

There are other bits of story that, like the disappearing digits business, don’t seem to help bring us to the story’s conclusion. One of the other loopers is a screw-up, and he becomes the story’s third point of view character—old and young Joe are the others. Why is this guy so important? Another example is the stump. The third boy lives on a farm where he is being taken care of by a woman who may be his mother (Blunt). She is several times shown chopping away at an old stump, her bare hands red from the work. Why? What’s like an old stump?

I couldn’t find anything in the movie that was like it, or any reason for the part by part de-materialization or the attention focused on the inept killer. So these were distractions rather than preparations.

When the viewer gets to the ending, with its ingenious solution to the story’s central problem, the moral realization comes as a surprise to us. We were expecting a big action scene, not a philosophic truth.

So “Loopers” isn’t really great. But it is pretty good. The action is modest in scope but decent. The sci fi set-up is interesting. Willis mugs less so that Gordon-Levitt resembles him more. And in the end, we get a big truth.

We just weren’t expecting the curve. We expected the heater.

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