I suppose I hadn’t given it much thought then, nearly dismissing Brick in my 2006 review as a “flagrantly self-affected and at times dementedly jocular piece of art-house trash,” before immediately reversing course and finding something deeper in it. Utilizing anachronistic gumshoe dialogue in the style of Dashiell Hammett, director Rian Johnson assembled a seemingly clever detective story that uses a “brick” of heroin as the MacGuffin, and a dead girl as a plot device. It took me until now to realize that all women are plot devices in Rian Johnson’s universe.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a Looper, is paid handsome sums of money to eliminate targets of crime syndicates thirty years into his future. Having become possible yet highly illegal, time travel is used to eliminate enemies by sending them into the past to be killed by a Looper waiting for them in the right place and time.
While loopers carry blunderbuss rifles, ideal for short-range elimination of their targets, a sinister villain known as the Rainmaker has employed Gat Men (so named for their pistols) to hunt down every Looper for reasons yet to be discovered. The twist is given early in the film when the future Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back into young Joe’s hands. This is called “closing the loop,” for which Loopers are paid in gold ingots rather than silver. No thought is given to the effects of inflation, but the difference in color at the very least lets the Looper know he’s just killed himself. While a death sentence, most Loopers use the foreknowledge and vast sums of money to party like it’s 2039 for the remaining 30 years of their life.
But just as this set introduces us to what could be a riveting story, even the film’s seemingly mundane details that might have given character and depth, such as Joe’s quip about so-called T.K.’s (telekinetics) being “assholes who think they’re blowin’ your mind floating quarters,” are really only expository moments designed to move the plot forward.
Seth (Paul Dano) is the first looper who gets wise to the future, then releases his future self in a panic. It’s intriguing to see a future self put together what to do next as his body scars and memories change based on the guiding actions of his past self in the same present. However, if as a storyteller you’re going to think that far to impress us then wouldn’t it be sensible to stop somewhere in the writing process and ask yourself, “What’s a noseless, legless, tongueless guy going to do for the next thirty years?”
It’s claimed that Abe (Jeff Daniels) is a dangerous gangster from the future sent to the present to control the loopers but this is a bit superfluous since the very method used to send payment back in time is the same method used to close the loop. The Milgram Experiment is proof enough that the more distance you keep between the subject and the experimenter the better. In reality, Abe only helps instigate ultimately meaningless action sequences. One such sequence demonstrates the paradox that would occur were Joe to die. Not only is it blindingly obvious that this paradox was shown to you, the viewer, to foreshadow the denouement, but the director later completely ignores the story’s own internal logic all for the convenience of an ending that probably tested better with audiences.
The other, and more troubling aspect to the film is Mr. Johnson’s use of women as plot devices or Male Support Systems. Every female character, beginning with Suzie (Piper Perabo) the stripper, either caters to a male’s sexual desires, assuages a man’s wounds, or mothers him. Not one of the female characters in the movie exists as a personality of depth with her own motivations. Why does Joe’s future wife (Qing Xu), so central to the entire story, lack even so much as a single line of dialogue to give insight as to why she fell in love with him? She’s an object that moves the plot forward. Emily Blunt’s Sara comes to trust young Joe not on her terms so much as because he protected her from another (perceived) male threat who turns out to be harmless! Was it too much for Rian Johnson’s imagination to come up with a cleverer way for them to cross paths than to undermine his own self-sufficient, rifle-slinging single mom with a classical damsel Meet Cute? There’s a recurring theme of Sara hacking away at a tree stump with an axe, perhaps to symbolize her frustration at being a purposeless object by taking it out on another purposeless object.
Comparisons will be made to Chris Marker’s La Jetée and Terry Gilliam’s inspired derivative, 12 Monkeys, in which Bruce Willis also starred. But Mr. Marker was smart enough to keep his story very simple, observing something more profound about the human condition in 26 minutes of still photographs than all 118 minutes of this movie in which the second act is too long and the third obliterates the more interesting possibilities set up in the first.
While some films which play fast and loose with details can get away with it, we can’t ignore the inconsistencies and omissions here because the director has created a film that at least sets an expectation of story consistency and depth, and then fails to deliver it. I wouldn’t give any grief to, say, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But because the deus ex machina here is not only evident from the start, and because the identity of the Rainmaker is glaringly obvious, then the conclusion to the film betrays everyone in the audience by only partially observing the rules of time travel set up in earlier scenes. The transgression of internal logic suspends a faithfully observant viewer’s disbelief more than Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s glued on eyebrows.
Looper • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Running Time: 100 minutes • MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content. • Distributed by TriStar Pictures